“Without additional local, national and global action on the greatest threats, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem will remain very poor, with continuing consequences for its heritage values also,” the report states.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on August 30, 2019

The outlook for the golden jewel in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, has transitioned from poor to very poor.

The Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019 Outlook Report warns the forecast will not improve unless there is urgent national and global action to address the climate crisis. The failure to focus on what it describes as the major threat facing the reef could affect the qualities that led to it being world heritage listed.

“Without additional local, national and global action on the greatest threats, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem will remain very poor, with continuing consequences for its heritage values also,” the report states.

“The window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now.”

The report also highlighted the problem of farming as the “main pollutant source affecting the condition of the marine ecosystem” via land-based run-off.

“After a period of early uptake, the rate of adoption of agricultural best practice has slowed,” the report found.

The Great Barrier Reef's outlook has been downgraded from poor to very poor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Half of Queensland’s A$14 billion a year in agricultural production occurs within the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

The report found the region “continues to be vulnerable to exposure to pollutants (mainly sediments, nutrients and pesticides) transported from land-based run-off resulting from unsustainable agricultural land management practices”.

It could seriously threaten not only natural values but the success of reef-dependent industries such as fishing and marine tourism.

Sir David Attenborough, 93, told the UK House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in July that Australia was already having to deal with some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change.

“I will never forget diving on the (Great Barrier) reef about 10 years ago and suddenly seeing that instead of this multitude of wonderful forms of life, that it was stark white, it had bleached white because of the rising temperatures and the increasing acidity of the sea,” he told MPs.

The report, the third published, declared the health of the reef poor in 2014 and said the situation has worsened.

“Australia is now caring for a changed and less resilient Reef,” the report said.

“Global action on climate change is critical.”

The report notes habitat loss, degradation and alteration in a number of areas; back-to-back years of coral bleaching; battering from cyclones; declining populations in some reef fish, marine turtles and seabirds; poor water quality; altered ocean currents and artificial light as just some of the challenges facing the Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is widely recognised as one of the best-managed marine protected areas in the world and its World Heritage values remain whole and intact. However, it is challenged by multiple and broad-scale pressures,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority CEO Josh Thomas said.

“Anyone following the state of the Great Barrier Reef over the last 10 years is well aware of the pressures and challenges facing the ecosystem. This report brings together scientific information to provide a comprehensive overview of the Reef’s health.

“While the Reef is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, its future is one we can change — and are committed to changing. Local, national and global action on the greatest threats facing the Reef is needed now.”

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chief Scientist Dr David Wachenfeld said the greatest possible effort to create “recovery windows” for the Reef must be taken.

“Gradual sea temperature increase and extremes, such as marine heatwaves, are the most immediate threats to the Reef as a whole and pose the highest risk. Global action on climate change is critical,” he said.

“Mitigating threats like climate change and poor water quality, coupled with resilience-based management, are essential to boosting reef health so it can recover from major disturbances.”