The health of the Great Barrier Reef is declining and its overall outlook is poor and expected to further deteriorate in the future (The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, and the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, 2016).
- Between 1985 and 2012 almost half the coral cover on mid-shelf and off shore reefs has declined.
- Seagrass abundance south of Cooktown has declined since 2009.
- The dugong population south of Cooktown has drastically declined from 1962 levels.
The GBR is facing a number of serious challenges. As previously discussed climate change (ocean warming, ocean acidification, intensification of storm events) is the most significant long-term threat to the GBR and while there are efforts to reduce global emissions, the focus must also be on reducing the full range of pressures on the GBR to improve its resilience. Improving water quality now is the highest priority to building the GBR’s resilience and its capacity to recover from climate change related disturbances (refer to Water section).
It is also imperative to the GBR’s resilience that there is coordinated management of activities that directly use or access the GBR, including port development, increased use of shipping passages, dredging as well as commercial and recreational fishing and tourism. Development and traffic within the sensitive marine environment risk directly destroying offshore ecosystems, including displacing seagrass meadows and reef ecologies.
Planning and decision making for competing activities in the GBR need to give consideration to long-term environmental impacts, as well as the long-term sustainability and contributions to the community of the competing industries. While some industries may lead to short-term increases in our regional economies, if their impacts are irreversible this will lead to the long-term demise of not only our natural asset, but also dependant industries and communities. Known impacts to the GBR should be actively remediated where possible to re-establish ecosystem processes and values, thereby ensuring the long-term sustainability of reliant industries such as fishing and tourism.