Box HER24 The Great Barrier Reef-World Heritage in focus

Heritage issues have been prominent in the media and community debate in recent years. In particular, the consideration by the World Heritage Committee of potential inclusion of the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2015, and the subsequent major coral bleaching event of 2016, have received extensive media coverage (Slezak & Hunt 2016).

Diver surveying coral death at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Diver surveying coral death at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo courtesy The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Diver surveying coral death at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

The Australian and Queensland governments have prepared the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan and established the associated Reef Trust:

The Reef Trust is one of the key mechanisms to assist in the delivery of the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan. It will provide cost-effective, strategic investment to support on-ground action for the long-term protection and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and focuses on known critical areas for investment: improving water quality and coastal habitat along the reef, controlling the current outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish, and protecting threatened and migratory species, particularly dugong and turtles. (Australian Government 2015a:21)

The Reef Trust and the 2050 Plan are part of an integrated plan to improve water quality and coastal habitats, and protect threatened and migratory species such as dugong and turtles. To date, $210 million has been allocated, including additional funding in 2016 for addressing outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish. In addition, $101 million is being contributed from the National Landcare Programme. The total projected investment of Australian governments to protect the Great Barrier Reef during the next decade exceeds $2 billion.

Detailed guidelines have been prepared to assist with good decision-making for the Great Barrier Reef, including consideration of actions that may have significant impact and the requirements for referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. These guidelines are intended to facilitate conservation of the ‘outstanding universal value’ and National Heritage value of the Great Barrier Reef (DoE 2014).

Nevertheless, the Reef remains extremely vulnerable to climate change–induced heat stress and ocean acidification, as well as other anthropogenic pressures, including indirect impacts arising from major development such as the recently approved Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project in the Galilee Basin.

Preliminary findings from research conducted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science suggest that, in early 2016, up to one-quarter of the coral on the Reef suffered from bleaching caused by heat stress, mostly concentrated in the northern third of the Reef, from Port Douglas to Cape York (GBRMPA 2016a; Figure HER16).

A map of Queensland from Bundaberg to Cape York shwoing the extent of observed coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

A map of Queensland from Bundaberg to Cape York showing the extent of observed coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Reef is broken into 4 management areas, each rating the same amount and severity of bleaching. The areas and ratings are: far northern management area, severe rating; Cairns and Cooktown management area, moderate to severe rating; Townsville and Whitsunday management area, minor to severe rating; Mackay and Capricorn management area, minor to moderate rating.

Figure HER16 Map of observed bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef as at 13 June 2016

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Box HER24 The Great Barrier Reef-World Heritage in focus. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/case-study/heritage/box-her24-great-barrier-reef-world-heritage-focus, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0