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24 February 2017 - ​Spot checks reveal further coral bleaching

Spot checks conducted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority between Cairns and Townsville have revealed moderate to severe coral bleaching at some reefs. 

The Marine Park Authority conducted 54 in-water spot surveys of six reefs this week following early warning system reports of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said all six reefs surveyed had experienced thermal stress, following 12 months of sustained above-average temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef and current sea temperatures approximately 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average.

“Initial survey results showed high levels of bleaching among the most sensitive coral species, with 60 per cent or more affected at some sites,” Dr Reichelt said.

“However, coral species generally resistant to bleaching, such as boulder corals, fared better, displaying a much lower incidence of bleaching.

“Reports of coral bleaching have been increasing over the summer, in the wake of 12 months of sustained above-average temperatures.

“The Marine Park Authority is working closely with its partners in the tourism, fishing and research fields to build a comprehensive picture of the current and anticipated impacts of further coral bleaching.

“The Authority is using its well-established Reef Health Incident Response System, including satellite tools from the Bureau of Meteorology and reports through its Eye on the Reef monitoring network, to gather intelligence and target aerial and in-water surveys.”

Above-average temperatures are predicted until the end of March and into April; however local weather events — such as monsoonal rain — could bring cool relief to Reef waters.

The bleaching incidents on the Great Barrier Reef are part of a global coral bleaching event that has been affecting the world’s coral reefs for at least two years.

“The Great Barrier Reef has fared better than many of the world’s reefs and still offers exceptional visitor experiences with hundreds of reefs across its vast 348,000 square kilometres still in good condition,” Dr Reichelt said.

“The latest coral bleaching strengthens the urgency of the world acting to implement the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so average temperature increase remains well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and preferably below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“It also emphasises the importance of the Reef 2050 Plan and the Authority’s ongoing management to build Reef resilience — including its underpinning zoning plan which research indicates is effectively protecting biodiversity across the Great Barrier Reef, compliance actions to stamp out illegal fishing and work to control the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.”

The bleaching incidents on the Great Barrier Reef are part of a global coral bleaching event that has been affecting the world’s coral reefs for at least two years.

Dr Russell Reichelt, Chair, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Previous update

Over the past two weeks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has received some ad hoc reports from Reef visitors and scientists about signs of stressed corals on individual reefs between Cairns and Mackay. This was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

With the whole of Australia experiencing warmer than average temperatures again this summer, the fact that the Reef is also under stress is not unexpected.

Here’s what we know from the Authority about the current status of the Great Barrier Reef.

The combination of the global bleaching event last year, an unusually warm winter and now a second unusually warm summer, means that even more heat stress is built up in many areas of the Reef compared to this time last year.

Increasing reports of coral bleaching and disease from many parts of the Marine Park, ranging from offshore Mackay to the Far North, have been received.

Globally, the climate is changing and this weather is unprecedented, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how the Reef’s corals (and the ecosystem) will respond.

The heat stress is likely to continue into March, so the Authority is closely monitoring the situation.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is working with its partners in Queensland Government, science and tourism to assess the situation and implement next steps in terms of reef health surveys and action in line with the Reef 2050 Plan.

The Great Barrier Reef is huge – it’s the size of 70 million football fields! – so citizen scientists can play a vital role in helping the Authority stay informed with what’s happening through taking photos and sending information through the Eye on the Reef Program.

The Reef’s vast size means that many areas remain healthy and beautiful at the same time as others show evidence of stress, including bleaching and disease.

Climate change remains the number one threat to the Reef, reinforcing the need for a global solution and for the global community to achieve the objectives set in Paris in 2015.

The Australian community is committed to implementing the Reef 2050 Plan which includes actions such as zoning, working with farmers to improve water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish control.

Science and history tells us the Reef is incredibly resilient.  By working together to relieve the pressures on it, we can give the Reef the best chance of recovery.

The Authority and the tourism industry are urging visitors and those who work in the Marine Park to help them monitor closely any impacts from unusually high water temperatures on the Reef. Here's how to help.

Lead agencies charged with monitoring and responding to the coral bleaching

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