The Great Barrier Reef is showing signs of recovery with some of the best coral coverage recorded in years, according to a survey of the natural wonder conducted by the commonwealth’s chief independent marine science agency.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science assessment – which found “minimal impact” from last year’s coral bleaching and increases in hard coral across 85 per cent of the reefs surveyed year on year – comes as UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets this week to consider whether the site should be formally declared “in danger”.
The results of the AIMS annual monitoring program, which has been monitoring the condition of the reef since 1985, will be used by Environment Minister Sussan Ley in her final push to lobby committee members against ratifying the draft ruling on Friday.
The institute’s chief executive, Paul Hardisty, said the reef continued to face a significant threat from climate change.
“There is some encouraging news in this report and another good year would continue the recovery process, but we also have to accept the increasing risk of marine heatwaves that can lead to coral bleaching and the need for the world to reduce carbon emissions,” Dr Hardisty said.
The AIMS Long-Term Monitoring Program, the latest results of which will be released on Monday, found coral recovery across all three of the Great Barrier Reef’s regions – northern, central and southern – stretching 2300km along Queensland’s coastline.
A respite from severe weather events over the past year allowed the recovery, the report finds.
Yet while the survey, conducted between August 2020 and April, shows widespread recovery from coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and last year, scientists said it might not be enough to avoid the “in-danger” listing.
In the reef’s northern region, hard coral coverage increased to 27 per cent – near its recorded high of 30 per cent in 1988 – from its lowest level of 14 per cent in the 2018-19 survey report, with the central region at 26 per cent, up from its low of 12 per cent in 2018-19. The southern region was found to have 39 per cent hard coral coverage – up from 23 per cent in 2019.
Anything above 30 per cent is considered high coverage.
AIMS researchers also found the severity of bleaching was generally low where it existed and that 75 of the 127 reefs visited had no bleaching. The survey found just four crown of thorns outbreaks across 3000 individual reefs.