The popular news media have in recent years been deluged with stories claiming that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is severely damaged and has a very poor outlook for the future. Major threats to the reef supposedly include rising temperatures, ocean ‘acidification’, and pollution (sediment fertiliser and pesticides) from agriculture on the adjacent coast.
Government regulations aimed to ‘save the reef’ now affect every major industry in north Queensland – mining, sugar, beef cattle and others. In addition, bad publicity about the reef affects the tourist industry because Queensland’s biggest tourist attraction, the Great Barrier Reef, is constantly maligned in the media.
In fact, the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef, and its present condition, is far more encouraging than the public has been led to believe.
A good indication of the condition of the reef is the fraction of the reef that is covered by living coral, which has been surveyed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) each year since the mid 1980s (Figure 1). The quantity of coral fluctuates dramatically from year to year, falling mainly due to hurricanes, the waves of which smash large amounts of coral. Hot water events, and crown of thorns starfish plagues also periodically kill large amounts of coral. The latest data shows that the amount of coral has never been higher despite the reef supposedly having three unprecedented bleaching events in the last five years.
Continue reading: Is the Great Barrier Reef Threatened? By Peter Ridd.