CRITICAL DIAGNOSIS: Great Barrier Reef’s health declines

THE Great Barrier Reef faces irreversible loss if urgent and large-scale conservation measures are not taken now.

These are the findings from the IUCN’s World Heritage Outlook released this week which diagnosed the national treasure’s outlook as “critical”.

It identified climate change as a major threat along with poor water quality from catchment run-off, coastal developments, fishing and the crown-of-thorns starfish.

“Of most concern are ocean warming and acidification and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events,” the assessment stated.

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Cairns Inspire
Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Cairns Inspire

The IUCN said the 2016 and 2017 coral bleaching events had impacted two-thirds of the reef with another bleaching in 2020 the most severe and widespread on record.

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Rising sea temperatures along with food supplies and other factors had also contributed to seabird species deteriorating.

And the GBR’s status as the world’s largest turtle breeding ground was under threat with populations of loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles having all declined, as had scalloped hammerhead sharks, since the previous outlook in 2017.

Disturbing imagery obtained by WWF-Australia in 2019 showing the destructive impact of commercial gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Among the catch are species whose conservation status is of concern including hammerhead sharks, sawfish and a marine turtle. Picture: Contributed
Disturbing imagery obtained by WWF-Australia in 2019 showing the destructive impact of commercial gill nets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Among the catch are species whose conservation status is of concern including hammerhead sharks, sawfish and a marine turtle. Picture: Contributed

The report also found human activity like fishing and development had led to the deaths of endemic Australian snubfin dolphins and Australian humpback dolphins.

But along with the damning findings, the IUCN assessed the effectiveness of the Reef 2020 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

It said it was a welcome and “very significant step” forward but progress towards targets had been slow.

There was also a nod to community training, eco-tourism certification and outreach programs like Reef Guardians.

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But the Australian Marine Conservation Society GBR campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler said the Federal Government’s lack of decisive action on climate change was unforgivable in light of the findings.

“How many more warnings do our political leaders need before they take serious action on climate to protect our international icon, all its incredible wildlife and its beleaguered tourism industry?” Dr Schindler said.

She said the AMCS was calling on the government to be global leaders and commit to a national climate change policy limited to 1.5C of heating.

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