14 August 2003

Embargoed for use until Friday 15th Aug 2003

Australian and World experts in reef ecosystems have declared Australia will run the risk of losing its Iconic Great Barrier Reef unless measures are taken now. In an article to appear in the internationally regarded Science magazine, a group of leading Australian and International Scientists make sobering conclusions about the affects of global warming on reefs ecosystems worldwide.

“Climate change has begun to affect reefs by a warming of the world’s oceans, consequently reducing the ability of corals to lay down their limestone skeletons. Coral bleaching, in which the critical algal symbionts of corals sicken and leave the tissues of the coral, has been increasing steadily. While many coral reefs are recovering, many are also dying,” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director for the Centre for Marine Studies at The University of Queensland.

“What the bleaching process essentially means is that the beautiful colours of corals and equally brilliant fish communities presently seen on the reef could be replaced in the future with a panoramic graveyard of algal covered coral skeletons and a scarcity of fish. This would be a tragedy for Australia”

In the article “Climate Change, Human Impacts, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs” the seventeen experts warn that already one third on the world’s reefs are damaged, and that following this pattern 60% of our reef systems could be gone forever in the next thirty years.

“Reefs are entering conditions that they are unlikely to have seen over the past 20 million years. This scenario has all of us extremely worried.”

Many people are aware of the significance of the reef to Australia’s tourism industry, but with the depletion of reefs also comes devastating impacts on fish stocks with serious flow-on effects for the commercial fishing industry.

“The community is under the false assumption that our reef is protected. I am sure it would shock many Australians to know that at present only 4.6% of the Great Barrier Reef is protected. If we are serious about doing something about protecting the Reef we must immediately increase our levels of protection today.”

The federal Government’s new Representative Areas Program (RAP) on the Great Barrier Reef aims to protect 32.5% of the Great Barrier Reef within No-Take-Areas (NTAs).

“This is a visionary and timely initiative for which the Minister for the Environment should be applauded. If this protection plan is adopted and correctly enforced it will give our reefs a chance to recover and survive the scourges of warmer seas, over fishing and terrestrial pollution.”

For further information please call Ove Hoegh-Guldberg on 0401 106 604 or Veronica Westacott on +61 (07) 3365 1556.

An electronic copy of this release, a media briefing on the topic, and high resolution photos can be found at http://www.marine.uq.edu.au/OHG/news

Media Briefing Document
Embargo 15 August 2003

“Climate Change, Human Impacts, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs” Article to be published in Science; and the Great Barrier Reef

Article Abstract

The diversity, frequency and scale of human impacts on coral reefs are increasing to the extent that reefs are threatened globally. Projected increases in carbon dioxide and temperature over the next 50 years exceed the conditions under which coral reefs have flourished over the past half million years. However, reefs will change rather than disappear entirely, with some species already showing far greater tolerance to climate change and coral bleaching than others. International integration of management strategies that support reef resilience need to be vigorously implemented, and complemented by strong policy decisions to reduce the rate of global warming.

• “… reefs are in serious decline; an estimated 30% are already severely damaged, and close to 60% may be lost by 2030 (2). There are no pristine reefs left (3-4). Local successes at protecting coral reefs over the past 30 years have failed to reverse regional-scale declines, and global management of reefs must undergo a radical change in emphasis and implementation if it is to make a real difference.”
(T.P. Hughes1, A.H. Baird1, D.R. Bellwood1, M. Card2, S.R. Connolly1, C. Folke3, R. Grosberg4, O. Hoegh-Guldberg5, J.B.C. Jackson6, J. Kleypas7, J.M. Lough8, P. Marshall9, M. Nyström3, S.R. Palumbi10, J.M. Pandolfi11, B. Rosen12, J. Roughgarden13 2003)

• “The link between increased greenhouse gases, climate change and regional-scale bleaching of corals, considered dubious by many reef researchers only 10-20 years ago (8), is now incontrovertible (9-10).” (Hughes et al 2003)

• “Stressed, overheated corals expel the majority of their pigmented micro-algal endosymbionts, called zooxanthellae, and become pale or white. If thermal stress is severe and prolonged, most of the corals on a reef may bleach and subsequently many may die.” (Hughes et al 2003)

• In 1998 alone, a single world wide coral bleaching event killed 16% of the world’s coral. 48% of corals present on reefs in the Indian Ocean surveys were gone by the end of 1998.

• In 2002, over 60% of the Great Barrier Reef bleached. This resulted in 5% of its coral populations dying in a single year.

• Less than 5% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is currently protected in Marine National Park Zones (known locally as Green Zones or “no-take” zones). Australian and international scientific advice tells us that this is not enough to ensure the long-term survival of the Reef. http://www.reefed.edu.au/rap/protecting_our_gbr.html

• An AEC survey of Australians in March 2003 found that 93.6 per cent of respondents (including over 90 per cent of coastal Queenslanders) want greater protection for the Marine Park. This figure is up from 2002 when more than 86 per cent of Queensland respondents called for greater protection for the Marine Park.

• “It’s essential that all who fish the Park respect and understand the importance of Green Zones. Let’s work together for the right outcome on future Green Zones.”
Peter Hazard, Proprietor, Pro Tackle, Townsville.

• “Australians have the Reef in perpetuity and with that comes a great responsibility to protect it at all costs from potential destruction for future generations.”
Stephen Gregg, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Queensland. a href="http://www.reefed.edu.au/rap/protecting_our_gbr.html
Importance of industries in GBR catchment and lagoon.

Source: Productivity Commission, Canberra, 2003.