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Australia: Remaining Risks to the Great Barrier Reef

Provided by Jason Vains and John Baldwin, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

<p>Photo credit:    Commonwealth of Australia (GBRMPA)</p>

Photo credit: Commonwealth of Australia (GBRMPA)

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, representing as much as 15 percent of the world’s coral reef area. Lying off Australia’s northeastern shore, this massive reef structure brings billions of dollars into Australia’s economy each year, supporting more than 50,000 jobs.1: Most of the ecosystem is included within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Despite being one of the world's best-managed reefs, the long-term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is less optimistic due to the looming threats from climate change. Climate-related threats, in the form of warming and acidifying seas, are projected to cause more frequent and severe coral bleaching events and decreased growth rates in corals and other calcifying marine organisms.

To help increase the resilience of the reef from these future threats, reef managers, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, are turning their attention toward managing existing local threats that originate on land, such as coastal development and runoff from mining and agriculture, which cause pollution to drain into the Marine Park. Management of the effects from these “upstream” land-based activities is complex and will require a cooperative effort from all levels of government, as well as participation from industry sectors and affected communities.

The Reef Guardian program is one strategy the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is using in tandem with local governments to manage local threats. The goal of the program is to help build coastal and marine ecosystem resilience to climate change through improved water quality and land management practices in urban areas. As part of the program, local governments develop action plans to manage and assess vegetation, pests, and natural resources; manage waste, wastewater and stormwater; and involve and educate the community. The Reef Guardian program has provided an innovative framework for collaboration between an Australian Government agency (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) and local governments upstream of the marine park, directly involving these local governments in managing for the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

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  1. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009. (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, 2009). 

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