THE Great Barrier Reef is under increasing threat with authorities warning a mass coral bleaching event is set to occur.
After revealing that some parts of the reef had suffered substantial levels of coral mortality, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has upgraded its response to level three. The elevation comes just a week after the threat was upgraded to level two.
“Level three means severe regional bleaching, the highest level in GBRMPA Coral Bleaching response plan,” Australian Marine Conservation Society reef campaigner Cherry Muddle said.
Ms Muddle said the Whitsundays had “narrowly escaped” this time around but warned government action is needed to protect the reef.
“It’s absolutely urgent that the government take immediate action to tackle coral bleaching,” she said.
“As we see it, the government needs to reject the Abbot Point expansion, say no to new coal mines and fossil fuel subsidies and shift to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible.”
Coral bleaching is thought to be triggered by heat stress and Ms Muddle warned it is not a localised issue.
“The only time we’ve seen bleaching as severe as this event was in 1998 and 2002,” she said.
“Global warming causes the reef’s waters to heat up and when the water remains too hot for too long it causes mass bleaching events.
“The coral expels the algae, which is the colourful part of the coral, and if the water stays too hot for too long it can cause coral mortality.”
Ms Muddle said any degradation of the reef could have a devastating impact on the local economy.
“If we have recurring severe bleaching events it’s going to impact the colour of the reef,” she said.
“We must protect Queensland’s most important natural asset and the 69,000 jobs that the reef supports.”
The Whitsundays is a popular destination for tourists eager to see the reef with the region attracting as many visitors into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as Cairns, despite it accounting for only 1% of the total space of the park.
To help raise awareness about the issue, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Whitsunday Local Marine Advisory Committee are sponsoring a Coral Bleaching Forum.
Local tourism operator Lindsay Simpson will be among the key speakers along with Tyrone Ridgway from the Global Change Institute’s Healthy Oceans Program, and GBRMPA reef recovery director David Wachenfeld.
What: Coral Bleaching Forum
Where: PCYC Whitsunday
When: Wednesday, March 30, 6.30-8pm