Around the world, reefs are under pressure from factors such as pollution, development, climate change and heavy human use of ocean environments. Climate change has been identified as the greatest threat to the future of coral reefs around the world. And Australian reefs are no exception.
The challenge for reefs comes from both the increased pressure and the effects of multiple stressors. Reefs are naturally dynamic systems, but they need time in between disturbance events like cyclones or floods in order to recover. With events happening more regularly and sometime multiple pressures acting at once, then the resilience of the reef is reduced and it can no longer 'bounce back' to its earlier state. This means that reefs run the risk of shifting from complex and incredibly diverse coral habitats, to degraded algae-dominated reefs that cannot support as much life.
But stop and think. As an example, the Great Barrier Reef covers an area the size of Italy. Its composed of complex and diverse habitats, so pressures and impacts do not affect the reef equally. That is one of the reasons why you might read about divergent commentary on Reef health issues in the media. Some areas are healthy and beautiful, some are showing clear signs of stress with symptoms like coral bleaching and disease; and some areas have been heavily impacted by back to back mass coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017, cyclones or chronic water quality issues. As a system, reefs urgently needs our help. We have a window of opportunity to take action together.
The call to action to look after reefs & oceans is loud and clear.
Citizen science, community engagement and locally based actions to support reef resilience are all identified as important strategies for managing the Great Barrier Reef and reefs more broadly. We agree! Importantly, these actions close to home must be coupled with quick and notable action on climate change to protect our global icon. We all can, and must, help.