Stress taking its toll on reef: report

 

RESULTS from the latest Reef monitoring program has noted a decline in coral off Cairns and concluded stress is taking a toll.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science Reef Condition Update report has revealed hard coral cover in central and southern Great Barrier Reef regions has declined while in the north, coral cover was up from 11 per cent on 2017 to 14 per cent in 2019.

In the central region, from Cooktown to the Whitsundays, average coral cover decreased from 14 per cent in 2018, to 12 per cent in 2019.

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Green Island.
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Green Island.

The region bounced back from the lowest coral cover on record in 2012 - after Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011 - to record the highest average regional cover in 2016 of 22 per cent.

Since 2016, hard coral cover has declined continuously to 12 per cent in 2019, the report found.

The best performing reefs off Port Douglas were the Low Isles, Andersen and Agincourt No. 1 Reefs, which returned a hard coral cover of between 10-30 per cent during surveys conducted in February.

Fish swim near a staghorn coral that has died from the effects of warm ocean temperatures and coral bleaching on Hastings Reef off Cairns, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. (taken April 15, 2017). Picture: BRENDAN RADKE
Fish swim near a staghorn coral that has died from the effects of warm ocean temperatures and coral bleaching on Hastings Reef off Cairns, part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. (taken April 15, 2017). Picture: BRENDAN RADKE

The median hard coral cover in the Cairns sector remained low (0-10 per cent) and declined on nine reefs while five reefs remained stable.

The report cites the back-to-back coral bleaching events during the summers of 2016 and 2017 as the reason for the poor cover.

AIMS monitoring program leader Dr Mike Emslie said while there was a return of hard coral cover at some reefs, major disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones, and coral bleaching events in the past five years had caused general coral decline.

The Cato family Mike, Sonya, Elizabeth and Richard from South Carolina, USA disembark at the Cairns Reef Fleet terminal after a day diving the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: STEWART McLEAN
The Cato family Mike, Sonya, Elizabeth and Richard from South Carolina, USA disembark at the Cairns Reef Fleet terminal after a day diving the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: STEWART McLEAN

"We know reefs can recover given time and the right conditions, but there has been little relief from disturbances in recent years to allow significant recovery to occur," Dr Emslie said.

"The Great Barrier Reef is still beautiful and it is resilient, but it is facing unprecedented challenges."

Tourist Elizabeth Cato, visiting Hastings and Michaelmas Reef yesterday reacted neutrally to what she encountered beneath the waves.

"I was impressed. We got to see a black-tipped shark and a green sea turtle," she said.

Asked specifically about hard coral coverage, Ms Cato said bleaching damage was visible.

"The colours are still there ... it's not all bleached but it wasn't so much better than other locations but it was not much worse."

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation will today publish a 113-page outline of how it plans to spend $444m in federal funding to protect the living wonder.