Action needs to be taken now to protect the Great Barrier Reef from further damage, Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said today.
Dr Miles said that while the Reef remained a natural wonder and continued to attract millions of tourists to Queensland each year, today’s reports of a growing number of coral bleaching outbreaks were a call to action.
He said the “patchy’ bleaching – which had prompted authorities and researchers to step up in-water field surveys and monitoring of the reef – had been detected on multiple reefs.
“This is clear evidence that we must aim for a rapid reduction in carbon emissions to reduce global warming,” Dr Miles said.
“The natural beauty of the Reef is a drawcard for Queensland and an important ecosystem.
“If these bleaching events become too frequent and intense, it will become very difficult for the Reef to recover.
“The current bleaching has been found in reefs in mainly shallow areas where corals are frequently exposed to high levels of sunlight.
“Corals get their food from tiny symbiotic algae that live in their cells and provide abundant energy from sunlight.
“When the corals are stressed by events like elevated sea temperatures, they expel the algae and turn pure white as they bleach and their tissues lose the brown cells.”
Dr Miles said the Palaszczuk Government was serious about protecting the Reef.
“The Great Barrier Reef is very important to our environment, supports well over 60,000 jobs and is worth $6 billion to our economy,” he said.
“The Palaszczuk Government is focused on protecting the reef for the future of our environment and for the future of Queensland tourism.
“That’s why we committed $100 million to protect the reef over the next five years.”
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority this afternoon provided the coral bleaching update, announcing the widespread minor bleaching and adverse weather forecasts had prompted the agency to mount a level-one incident response.
Sea surface temperatures are fluctuating across the 345,000 square kilometre Marine Park, but in some areas they’ve ranged up to 2.5 degrees above the summer average.
GBRMPA will be stepping-up in-water site inspections with its partners with forecasts showing further above average sea surface temperatures were on their way.
Forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show a high probability of heat stress which could cause further bleaching.
“The next few weeks will be critical in terms of this bleaching event,’’ Dr Miles said.
“I am crossing my fingers that we will not see any broad-scale bleaching events like those that endangered the Reef in 1998 and 2002, and an intense event in the southern part of the Reef in 2006.
“Actions we are taking as part of the Great Barrier Reef long-term sustainability plan will better improve the reef’s resilience to these kinds of warming events,’’ he said.
Rangers and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority staff are constantly monitoring reef health at hundreds of sites across the Great Barrier Reef.
So far this summer, they’ve contributed towards the more than 514 surveys on 60 reefs, with 57 percent being in far northern and Cairns-Cooktown areas, target reefs with ongoing outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish.
In 19 percent of the surveys they saw coral bleaching, mostly low impact – the affected corals were in the reef flat, or were corals that are highly sensitive to bleaching.
On two surveys, moderate bleaching that affected corals beyond the reef flat, or corals that are usually resistant to bleaching, was reported, also some coral mortality from severe bleaching within the reef flat. In the southern Great Barrier Reef there have been some informal reports of bleaching.
Eleven percent of surveys found coral disease, especially brown band disease. Overall though, no significant coral bleaching or disease has been observed since the beginning of summer.
Further reef health impact surveys are programmed through March and April to ensure we have the best possible scientific information about the health of the reef. The Eye on the Reef citizen science program means there are even more eyes out for bleaching events.