Climate change and heritage

The Great Barrier Reef region has a range of world and national heritage values, including attributes relating to Traditional Owners ’ interaction with the natural environment.

The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014 details how climate change will affect heritage. Below are some examples.

Indigenous heritage values

Climate change will affect many aspects of Indigenous heritage, such as cultural practices, sacred sites, sites of particular significance, stories, songlines, totems, language, technology, tools and archaeology. Some impacts will come as a result of ecosystem effects, while others will occur directly.

Indigenous heritage values are particularly vulnerable because the natural environment is fundamental to Traditional Owner connections to land and sea country.

Historic heritage values

Historic heritage places and artefacts are at risk too. Heritage sites on beaches and in the intertidal zone are likely to be particularly vulnerable to sea level rise.

Because cyclones change land and seascapes, they can affect historic heritage structures on land (such as lightstations) and those that are submerged (such as historic shipwrecks).

An example is cyclone Yasi, which exacerbated the deterioration of the SS Yongala wreck off Ayr in North Queensland.

Aesthetic values

If altered weather patterns result in increased marine debris in the water and on the region’s beaches, aesthetic values will be diminished. Aesthetic value could also be affected if island and other terrestrial habitats change as a result of a shifted climate.