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12 Apr, 2017

Aerial surveys help combat coral bleaching at Great Barrier Reef

Canberra, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority media release, 10/04/2017 – Results from recent aerial surveys of the Great Barrier Reef will be used to target recovery efforts in those areas worst affected by this year’s coral bleaching event, as well as boost the resilience of those parts that remain largely unscathed.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said the results of surveys conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies would assist the Authority to refine a support strategy for the Reef, in the wake of this year’s extreme weather conditions, in addition to ongoing pressures such as coral disease and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

“The Great Barrier Reef, along with other reefs around the world, has suffered a second consecutive year of mass coral bleaching, driven predominantly by ocean warming due to climate change,” Dr Reichelt said.

“In addition, the impacts of recent severe tropical cyclone Debbie, and resulting flooding in the catchment, have placed greater pressure on the Reef potentially adding to coral loss.”

The ARC aerial surveys indicate this year’s coral bleaching event has affected a large part of the central region of the Reef, which is different to last year’s event when far northern stretches of the Reef experienced the worst impact.

More promisingly, the survey results showed the bleaching was patchy and there were many reefs that remained largely unaffected, Dr Reichelt said.

“These reefs will help seed recovery. Bleaching is not the equivalent of a death knell. Reefs and individual coral colonies do have the ability to recover, depending on the severity of the bleaching and whether other pressures are reduced,” he said.

Dr Reichelt said climate change would remain the number one impediment to the Reef’s recovery, unless global action was taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The international community urgently needs to work together to implement the Paris Agreement. Otherwise coral reefs world-wide face a bleak future,” he said.

The Marine Park Authority will continue efforts to build the resilience of the Reef to support recovery after coral bleaching. These efforts will also help the Reef withstand the cumulative pressures of other threats to this complex ecosystem, which covers an area larger than Italy.

“We are working on a number of fronts to support the Reef, enhance its resilience and control threats to coral health,” Dr Reichelt said.

“We are developing new methods to contain outbreaks of coral-eating, crown-of-thorns starfish and putting measures in place to restore the integrity of Reef catchments and improve water quality entering the Reef.

“The Authority is also vigilant in protecting the Reef by ensuring compliance in non-fishing zones of the Marine Park, which maintains biodiversity that is crucial to coral health.

“In addition, we are working with our scientific partners to explore longer-term innovative solutions to boost coral recovery, such as coral re-seeding and assisted evolution.”

Dr Reichelt said Reef-conservation partnerships forged with Traditional Owners, science partners, community and industry were vital to the success of many of these measures.

“While the implementation of the Paris Agreement is in the hands of the global community, there are many people working on the ground, right now, in this region, to do what they can to safeguard the Reef for future generations,” he said.

“And as individuals, we can all assist the Reef by adopting energy-saving measures in our homes and workplaces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the amount of marine debris entering the reef and not anchoring on coral reefs, especially at this time when every piece of coral is important.”