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Impacts on the Reef

Its been a few very tough years for the reef, with multiple extreme events affecting reef health.

In 2016 and 2017 the Great Barrier Reef was hit hard by two years of consecutive mass coral bleaching. In 2016, the most extreme impacts were in the northern GBR and resulted in an estimated 30% mortality of corals across the entire Reef. This is the largest loss ever recorded from a discrete event. Prior to this event, the northern area had been considered one of the most pristine and healthy areas of the reef. 

Water temperatures remained warm over winter, prolonging the stress.Then in March 2017, a second mass bleaching event was announced. This year, coral bleaching had more intense impacts on reefs in the cental section of the Reef. The impacts of these events vary widely across the huge and diverse Reef system, but overall

March 2017 brought Cyclone Debbie, which crossed the coast at Airlie Beach as a category 4 storm. Debbie caused severe damage to many shallow reef systems. Early reports from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service indicate that some areas now have very low coral cover, while other patches show only moderate amounts of impact. As Cyclone Debbie's storm impacts moved south, it resulted in severe flooding for the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers, resulting in flood plumes that reached nearshore Reef areas.

So, its pretty scary stuff. But here's the thing. People are contributing to reef stress and the good news is, we're also the solution. But we need to get going on action. You can help.

What can you do?

  • Champion citizen science. Report bleaching sightings through REEFSearchCoralWatch or the Eye on the Reef Sightings network. Help capture information that contributes to understanding this massive event. 
  • Speak up for oceans. Be informed. Let your friends, neighbors and decision makers know what's happening and that the reef matters to you.
  • Keep it clean. Minimise your use of single use disposables, recycle and properly dispose of rubbish. Fishing line, plastic bottle, bags, etc. harm the reef and the animals that live on the reef. You can reduce stress on the marine environment by your simply daily decisions. 
  • Reduce fertilizer use. Nutrients from fertilizers can cause overgrowth of algae and suffocation of reefs. 
  • Slip, Slop, Slap. Use reef-friendly sunscreen or cover up when snorkeling or swimming near corals - oxybenzone, an ingredient in many sunscreens, has been shown to damage DNA in coral larvae and kill corals.  
  • Reduce your footprint. Reduce personal carbon emissions - walk, cycle, or ride public transport, use energy efficient appliances, increase renewable energy use, and try to buy local. Support global action to implement the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Be a responsible boatie. If boating, use mooring buoys on reefs or anchor in sand - anchors and chains can drag across corals. Once broken, corals can take decades to re-grow.
  • Find out more. Visit our Help reefs from home page.
  • Donate to support our programs to get more people involved!

What is coral bleaching? 

What is the latest news? 

What is Reef Check doing?

  • Around the world, Reef Check teams are tracking bleaching impacts on their reefs. The globally-standardised protocols of Reef Check offer the platform to understand this event at a global scale. 
  • Here in Australia, teams have been surveying as much as possible, undertaking 118 surveys in Queensland and Western Australia from 2016-2017.  We're continuing to get out for surveys all throughout this year to return to sites that have been unacessible due to Cyclone Debbie and re-survey sites that showed signs of bleaching earlier this year. 

Collecting citizen science data for coral bleaching

  • Eye on the Reef: Report your Sightings and photos of what you have seen out on the reef through the Eye on the Reef app. To take your reporting to the next level, participate in the online training course to undertake Rapid Monitoring Surveys to document key indicator species and crucial reef health observations.
  • CoralWatch: Learn more about coral bleaching with the Coral Reefs and Climate Change book and online resources. Then, grab a Do It Yourself Kit to document the colour of corals on reefs you visit.
  • Reef Check Australia: Share your photos and findings via the REEFSearch education and observation program. Help continue monitoring reef health beyond the bleaching event by joining as a trained volunteer to undertake globally-standardised reef health surveys.