Media Release Climate Change

Monitoring Mission must be taken to see the epicentres of severe mass bleaching event on our Reef say marine conservationists

March 25, 2022

Now that the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 has been officially declared on our Great Barrier Reef, it is vital the UNESCO/IUCN Monitoring Mission is taken to see the worst affected areas so they can understand the scale of this global heating-driven disaster, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

The Mission has been in Australia for five days assessing the Australian and Queensland governments’ protection of the Reef for the World Heritage Committee, but it is unclear whether they will be taken to the worst affected parts of the Reef where the bleaching is the most severe.

“The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said its surveys had detected severe bleaching in the central areas of the Reef in the waters off Townsville. Footage and images of this devastating event were collected by conservationists and scientists on Wednesday. Now we are learning that the northern sector is impacted too. We hope the mission will be taken to see both the central and northern areas,” said AMCS GBR campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler.

“The Morrison government must ensure the mission can  witness the severity and widespread nature of this devastating and unprecedented event – the first in a La Nina Year.

“The government should also explain to the mission why they continue to approve and cut red tape for the fossil fuel projects that are driving up the emissions which cause these mass bleaching events.

“Just days ago, energy minister Angus Taylor was in Gladstone announcing $50 million to fast track seven gas projects, including four in Queensland. As the Reef bleaches, it is still business as usual for the Morrison government.”

Dr Schindler said the mass bleaching declaration on the Reef was unprecedented in a La Nina year because they are normally characterised by rain and cloud cover on the east coast of Australia often helping to cool waters.

“This is devastating news for our Reef, the marine wildlife and the communities that depend on it being healthy,” she said.

“If this is the scale of the bleaching that can happen in a La Nina year, what is going to happen when we have an El Nino event, which drives severe heatwaves on the east coast?

“It underlines the urgency of acting now to reduce emissions so we hold global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees – a crucial threshold for coral reefs.

“We have the solutions. By transitioning to renewables, we can drive down emissions, protect the 64,000 jobs that rely on a healthy Reef and create good paying jobs for Australians.

“As Reef custodians, the Morrison government should be leading the charge to an earlier net zero target and taking the world with it. Instead they have not increased their emissions reduction ambitions in this crucial decade.”

Dr Schindler added the government’s inaction on climate was risking the World Heritage status of the Reef, as well as the future of the Reef itself.

“Last year, the World Heritage Committee urged the Morrison government to take ‘accelerated action at all possible levels’ to address the threat from climate change. But this has yet to be demonstrated.

“At this stage, it is hard to see how UNESCO/IUCN would not recommend the Reef be listed on the World Heritage In Danger list again this year.”