Media Release Great Barrier Reef

AIMS report shows Great Barrier Reef recovery has stalled

August 9, 2023
  • Mass bleaching last year has stalled Reef recovery in two regions

  • Predicted summer El Niño increases chances of marine heatwaves and coral bleaching 

  • Australia and Queensland must do more on climate and strengthen its emissions reduction targets to slash pollution and protect our natural wonder

The latest Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) monitoring report shows hard coral cover has dropped slightly across the Great Barrier Reef on average as we head into an expected El Niño event this summer, in which the Reef will again likely face more marine heatwaves and coral bleaching, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

The AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program Report report shows an average slight decrease in hard coral cover across all three regions in the Great Barrier Reef, with the recent coral recovery in the North and Central regions stalled due to the bleaching event last year – the first to take place during the cooler, wetter La Niña conditions.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “The latest AIMS report shows the slight recovery in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef during the cooler La Niña years has stalled due to the mass bleaching event that occurred during last year’s La Niña event. This is deeply concerning as we head into another expected El Niño event, which brings hotter, drier conditions, increasing the chances of marine heatwaves, coral bleaching and coral death.

“The Great Barrier Reef has suffered four mass bleaching events since 2016, and the most devastating bleaching occurred during El Niño events. The current El Niño, which was declared by the World Meteorological Organisation in July, is believed to be fuelling higher than average ocean temperatures across the globe.

“Climate change is heating up our oceans and driving more frequent and intense weather patterns. It remains the greatest threat to the Reef. Ocean temperatures around the globe have never been higher. What is unfolding in the northern hemisphere is worrying for us here in Australia, especially with water temperatures in the Great Barrier Reef already higher than average.

“We need to be doing more to battle climate change. Both the Australian and Queensland governments must urgently slash greenhouse gas emissions to protect the Reef and the 64,000 livelihoods that depend on a healthy Reef.

“As a starting point, the Queensland Government must double its 2030 emissions reduction target if it wants any chance of staying within reach of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a critical threshold for coral reefs. Queensland is one of the biggest polluters per capita in the world yet still has one of the lowest emissions reduction targets in the country.

“The bleaching events during the last El Niño in 2016 and 2017 were devastating for the Great Barrier Reef. If there is another severe bleaching event this summer we urge the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to divert resources into extensive surveys of impacted reefs, as was done in 2016. We must track the impact of this climate crisis and show the world what the future of coral reefs looks like without urgent action on climate change.”