News of a widespread but variable bleaching event unfolding in multiple regions on the Great Barrier Reef, announced today by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, is devastating for everyone connected with our global icon and shows the Morrison government’s woeful efforts on climate action are failing our Reef, the Australian Marine Conservation Society says.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “While not yet officially declared a mass bleaching event, this is still disastrous news for our Reef, the marine life and communities that rely on its health.
“What is most concerning is that this widespread bleaching is happening during a La Nina weather event, which is normally characterised by rain and cloud cover on the east coast of Australia often helping to cool waters. It shows the consistent pressure our Reef is now under from global heating. A healthy reef can recover from coral bleaching but it needs time. More frequent marine heatwaves primarily driven by the burning of coal and gas means it is not getting this time.”
The terrible news of widespread bleaching comes just days before the UNESCO/IUCN Reef Monitoring Mission is due to arrive in Australia to assess the Australian and Queensland government’s protection of the Reef for the World Heritage Committee. AMCS calls on the Morrison government to ensure the mission delegates are able to witness the devastation caused by bleaching with their own eyes.
“The Morrison government needs to get the mission out for an aerial survey in a helicopter to view the most severely impacted areas particularly in the central areas of the marine park in the waters off Townsville,” added Dr Schindler.
“The mission delegates need to witness the severity and widespread nature of this devastating event and while out there the Morrison government should explain to the mission why they continue to approve and cut red tape for fossil fuel projects.
“Global heating is the single biggest threat to the future of our Reef. There is still hope if we act now to reduce emissions so we hold global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees – a crucial threshold for coral reefs.
“By divesting from coal, decarbonising the economy and making Australia a renewable energy superpower, we can drive down emissions while creating good paying jobs.
“As Reef custodians, the Morrison government should also 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 Morrison 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.
“In fact, just days ago the Morrison government reiterated its support for damaging fossil fuel projects by announcing certain developments, like mining, may be able to bypass federal environment approvals in 10 as yet unnamed regions.
“At this stage, and considering the timing of the Mission’s presence in Australia with this devastating bleaching event, it is hard to see how UNESCO would not recommend the Reef be listed on the World Heritage In Danger list again this year.”
GBRMPA announced that bleaching had been detected across the marine park. The bleaching is widespread but variable, across multiple regions, ranging in impact from minor to severe. The most heavily impacted reefs are around the Townsville region.
Bleaching is caused by marine heatwaves driven in part by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas. Following a hot December, water temperatures had cooled on the Reef but a late summer heatwave in northern Queensland is believed to have driven this bleaching event. The corals experiencing thermal stress have expelled the colourful algae that lives in their tissues causing our Reef to fluoresce and then turn a ghostly white in places.