Rising sea temperatures, coral bleaching, poor water quality, coastal development, crown of thorns starfish and severe storm events have contributed to coral loss of more than 50% since 1985. The health and resilience of the remaining reef has also been severely impacted.
Never before has this natural wonder been under greater pressure and the global community is concerned. World leaders, scientists, economists and even industry are warning of the impacts; UNESCO may soon declare the world’s largest coral reef system “In Danger”, which would acknowledge Australia’s failure to manage the world heritage site and become the first step in removing it from the UNESCO listing.
Key areas of concern identified by The Australian Institute of Marine Science, The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and UNESCO include:
The Great Barrier Reef has always been internationally recognised for its outstanding biodiversity. Maintaining this is not only important to a thriving tourism industry, but is vital for the reefs ongoing functionality, productivity and ability to withstand, recover, and adapt to an ever increasing number of stresses. We must act now to protect the wealth of this living asset, identify new species and allow new resources to be developed.
PRIMARY HABITATS & REPRODUCTIVE SUCCESS
Long-term sustainability of coral reefs will depend on the presence and maintenance of primary habitats and nursery grounds. Investigating the mechanisms, maintenance and continued presence of sea grasses, mangroves, estuaries and rivers as well as mass spawning events is crucial to reef communities and our food security.
SURVIVAL OF MEGAFAUNA
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the last refuges to marine megafauna including turtles, dugong, sharks, rays, whales and dolphins. These animals play an important role in coral reef food webs and ecological processes, as well as attracting millions of tourists to the region every year. Many face significant threats from a range of natural and anthropogenic impacts and are listed as endangered or vulnerable. Understanding marine megafauna ecology and population dynamics will be a critical factor in their long-term survival
Coral reefs are crucial to sustaining the health of our oceans and economy. Globally, there is a rapid and widespread decrease in coral cover, diversity and health. It is essential that we fully understand the mechanisms that lead to this demise if we are to prevent further loss.
Connectivity & Resilience
As one of the planet’s most diverse and extraordinary ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef supports a wide range of habitats (e.g. mangroves, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, deep oceans) and many thousands of species, from microscopic plankton to complex human communities far beyond its boundaries. Both the reef and our survival depend on maintaining the condition of these habitats and the interconnections between them.
The capacity of the Great Barrier Reef to recover from a broad range of threats is crucial to improving its long-term outlook. By understanding and addressing key issues associated with water quality, oceanography, dredging and shipping, coastal development, damaging & invasive species, food security, climate change and agricultural practices we will greatly improve our ability to successfully manage the health of the Reef.
Global climate change is severely impacting coral reef health in the form of coral bleaching and ocean acidification with 2016 being the worst coral bleaching event ever recorded.
The impact of Crown of Thorns starfish has contributed to more than 50% of the decline in corals along the reef.
Under threat from the most widespread, rapid and damaging set of industrial developments in Queensland’s history which will require the dredging and dumping of the seabed and rock for large scale developments and increased shipping.
Sediment, nutrient and pesticide pollution from catchment run-off has quadrupled over the past 150 years providing food for algal blooms and the Crown of Thorns starfish.
The impact of past agriculture, mining, urban and industrial development, port activities and island development is obvious and approvals are increasing.
Outdated fishing practices
Trawling for prawns is permitted in over one-third of the marine park, resulting in untargeted fish capture (bycatch), and damage to the seafloor and its resident plants and animals.