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Great Barrier Reef’s health deemed ‘critical’ as world watches coral spawning event

Diver with marine fish

As the world tunes in to watch live footage of the spectacular annual coral spawning event on the Great Barrier Reef this weekend, a report released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicates that the reef’s health is rapidly declining.

The World Heritage Outlook report determined that the major threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change, and downgraded the prognosis for the reef to ‘critical’. The world heritage values of the natural wonder are now considered to be severely threatened. In 2021, the World Heritage Committee will meet to decide whether it will declare the reef ‘in danger’.

“Our reef is under intense and unsustainable pressure from climate change,” said AMCS Great Barrier Reef community campaigner Elise Springer.

“We’ve had 3 mass bleachings on our reef in only 5 years, the most recent of which were this year.”

Public support is high and increasing for the federal government to take more meaningful action on climate change, with the latest Essential poll indicating that 81% of Australians surveyed agreed that the government should adopt a net zero emissions target by 2050.

“There are thousands of livelihoods depending on a healthy reef but our federal government is not doing enough to ensure the future of this important industry for Queensland,” said Dr Lissa Schindler from the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

“It would not be surprising for Australians to think the Federal Government doesn’t care enough about the Great Barrier Reef and its outstanding value to take serious climate action to protect its future.”

The AMCS has applauded the Queensland government’s announcement this week that $645 million would be used to fund the state’s Climate Action Plan. The money will be allocated towards renewable energy generation including three Renewable Energy Zones.

Although the reef’s greatest threatening process is climate change, the AMCS said there are many other threats that need to be mitigated to ensure its survival, such as runoff from agricultural land and unsustainable commercial fishing practices like gillnet fishing.  

“Climate is obviously a big threat to the reef, but it’s a massive global problem, and of course Queensland and Australia have to play their part,” said Springer.

“Water quality is something that we can improve directly and immediately right here in Queensland and we know that it’s essential for the future of the reef, and our related industries that rely on it like tourism.”

Over two evenings starting tonight, the ABC is broadcasting live footage of the spectacle of synchronous coral spawning across the 2300 kilometre length of the Great Barrier Reef. Reef advocates are hoping that it will inspire viewers to take greater custodianship of the reef.

“The take-home message for people is that our reef is still absolutely magnificent,” said Springer.

“We’re talking about one of the most diverse and spectacular ecosystems on the planet. But it’s under severe threat, and it urgently needs us to pressure our state and federal governments to take action.”

Images: David Hannan, ABC/Northern Pictures

Sarah Jacob

Sarah Jacob is a journalist and editor and is currently The Advocate's Deputy Editor. She has written for a range of print and online publications across Australia and internationally with a focus on the environment and human rights. Previously she worked in conservation science and protected area management, and has completed postgraduate degrees in journalism and marine science.

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