Threats to the Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a natural treasure and one of the world's best managed marine areas, but like all tropical coral reefs around the world it’s facing serious threats.

Our Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 and strategic assessment found the Reef is an icon under pressure from:

In recent years, a series of major storms and floods have affected an ecosystem already under pressure. Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and marine debris are also affecting the area.

The pressures from climate change, when combined with these additional pressures, are resulting in dramatic, system-wide declines in the Reef’s condition.

Climate change impacts on coral reefs are predicted to worsen and critically affect the survival of coral reefs globally without the strongest possible climate change mitigation.

The Reef is already experiencing the consequences of climate change — most notably, two consecutive years of severe mass coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

Coral bleaching, and a severe tropical cyclone that occurred in 2017, impacted 80 per cent of the Reef over the last two years.

The Reef is facing a range of threats over time, scale and duration, and the cumulative impact of these threats has the potential to further weaken its resilience.

This is likely to affect its ability to recover from serious disturbances, such as major coral bleaching events, which are predicted to become more frequent in the future.

While the Great Barrier Reef remains a vibrant, beautiful ecosystem of immense value to Australians and the world, global and local actions are needed to protect the Reef.

Addressing key threats

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is the key management agency for the Great Barrier Reef and works with government, industries and communities to build reef resilience.

We use a range of tools — including on-ground park management, policies, programs, partnerships and regulations — to maintain the delicate balance between protecting and enabling sustainable use.

The Australian and Queensland governments' Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan provides an overarching framework for protecting the Reef.

It draws on our strategic assessment and 25-year management plan and the findings of our Outlook Report 2019, which together provide the largest, up-to-date information on the Reef's health and management.

After the mass coral bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, in December 2017 the Marine Park Authority launched its Great Barrier Reef Blueprint for Resilience which draws on the input to the Great Barrier Reef Summit convened by the Authority in May 2017.

The blueprint outlines 10 initiatives with actions that deliver maximum benefits for Reef resilience, with a clear message: ‘Together we can secure the future of the Great Barrier Reef — but we need to try harder, do more and act now’.

Implementation of the blueprint initiatives is now underway — for example, the Australian Government committed substantial new funding for expansion of our field management program and increasing efforts to control outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish.

Climate change policies review

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provided input to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy on the climate change policies and review discussion paper. The Authority's submission reinforces the importance of Australia leading global efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

State of the climate

In December 2018, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO released their fifth, biennial State of the Climate report.

It draws on the latest monitoring, science and projection information to describe variability and changes in Australia’s climate.

Observations and climate modelling paint a consistent picture of ongoing, long-term climate change interacting with underlying natural variability.