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Not a Barrier to Be Broken

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Sustainability Plan -

Located off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef represents the largest coral reef system in the world, providing an abundance of marine life across 3,000+ reefs and coral cays. Its sheer scale, natural beauty, scientific importance, and an array of associated ecosystem services have rightly cemented the Great Barrier Reef as one of the natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Forming a significant part of Australia’s national identity, the site’s importance was highlighted in a recent report published by Deloitte, estimating that the Great Barrier Reef has an economic, social, and icon asset value of 56 billion dollars1. Providing a 6.4-billion-dollar economic contribution alone in 2015-2016, it comes as no surprise to discover that the Great Barrier Reef is widely regarded as being one of the best-managed ecosystems in the world. This reputation derives from its strong legislative protection, targeted investment, its own established governing body (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority2), numerous public advocates, and non-profit organizations all contributing towards its protection.

Despite such support, the Great Barrier Reef continuous to be negatively affected by anthropogenic impacts. These impacts include those associated with climate change (e.g. bleaching events and ocean acidification), poor water quality from land-based run-off, coastal developments, and fishing. More worryingly, a recent study undertaken by scientists based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland recently showed that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 1953.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia - MATT CURNOCK

Such trends have been observed and predicted by marine experts for some time and in anticipation, have seen a reinvention of Australia’s approach to reef protection. Since 2014, investment into the management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef have been unparalleled4. These actions have enabled the development and implementation of major management strategies to enhance its protection. The greatest representation of this is the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan5.

The latest revision of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan provides a comprehensive and overarching framework for managing the Reef for the next 30 years. The framework incorporates a greater focus on actions to address threats from changing climate, in addition to stricter legislative measures and significant investments into further research and management activities. As a pioneer of reef management, the plan will seek to increase its effectiveness through a holistic approach, bringing together actions across government, industry, indigenous groups, researchers, and the community.

However, even a plan of this magnitude acknowledges that it and the solo commitments of Australia are limited in the global cause against minimizing the impacts from climate change. This element will be much more dependent on an all-around international push to address climate change, such as countries’ inclusion and adherence to the Paris Agreement.

Nevertheless, such statements of national initiative display promising strides towards reef protection and maintenance. The revised Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan also provides an example of how important it will be to forever adapt and diversify strategies in response to the growing current and evolving new impacts that a fast-paced modern world will inevitably present.

Bleached Coral - The Great Barrier Reef, February 2017

As much as a positive move this represents, it does make you wonder that if the most protected coral reef in the world is struggling to preserve its qualities, what chance do other reefs have?


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