The coral bleaching event currently impacting the Great Barrier Reef is major and significant.
The Reef 2050 Independent Expert Panel met this week and provided me with a thorough briefing on the severity and geographical extent of bleaching.
The event is still unfolding and the full extent and severity of bleaching may take several weeks to manifest.
The Great Barrier Reef covers a vast area – larger than Italy – and the impact of bleaching varies across its 345,000 square kilometres.
I asked the Panel to release their scientific findings and provide advice to the Government on what further action can be taken.
The latest advice from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is that the most severe bleaching continues to be in the far northern sector between Cooktown and the tip of Cape York Peninsula.
The extent and severity of bleaching has also increased in the area between Cooktown and Tully, with moderate to severe bleaching being detected.
Recent surveys have confirmed minor bleaching in southern areas.
I have asked GBRMPA to publicly release a new update. This is being finalised and is due to be released shortly.
Whilst the current coral bleaching event is extremely concerning, there has been some positive news in recent days with a report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science identifying an average increase in coral cover across the entire reef of 19.3 per cent for the three years to 2015, prior to the current bleaching event.
The advice from the head of GBRMPA is that these results show that the Great Barrier Reef is a resilient ecosystem and has the ability to bounce back from impacts once other pressures are reduced.
However, if major disturbances such as bleaching events occur more regularly, this will affect the Reef’s ability to recover.
The Australian Government is providing financial and logistical support for new research into coral bleaching events impacting the Great Barrier Reef.
Like all reefs around the world, the Great Barrier Reef faces challenges.
The most effective way to protect the reef is to ensure it is healthy, which will help it withstand the effects of climate change.
In the short-term, Government is working to boost coral health through actions such as culling the predator crown-of-thorns starfish on high value reefs – for which the Independent Expert Panel has endorsed further action.
Improving water quality is a focus of the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan which will increase reef resilience in the medium term, while global efforts to tackle climate change will improve the long-term outlook for coral reefs around the world.
Our work to protect the great Barrier Reef resulted in the World Heritage Committee declaring last July that Australia was a global role model for the management of World Heritage properties and that the Reef would not be listed ‘in danger’ but rather was returned to the highest status level on the World Heritage list.
The Reef 2050 Independent Expert Panel meeting communiqué is available online: www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/reef2050/advisory-bodies