Global situation and context
Extreme weather events are occurring around the globe, with several land and ocean climate records broken this year.
Severe heatwaves and related wildfires are occurring in large parts of Asia, Europe, and North America, and the Antarctic sea-ice extent has reached record lows in both summer and winter.
Sea surface temperatures worldwide have broken monthly temperature records for every month between April and September 2023. Widespread marine heatwave conditions affected about 40 per cent of the world’s oceans.
During the northern hemisphere summer, sea surface temperatures throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean Sea were approximately 1-3°C above average, with temperatures around the Florida Keys the highest on record (up to 7°C above average).
Widespread, severe coral bleaching and mortality occurred on most coral reefs in these areas.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef was much warmer than usual over winter; however, spring sea surface temperatures are near average.
On 19 September 2023, the Bureau of Meteorology declared that an El Niño event was underway in the Pacific and will persist into the Austral summer. El Niño conditions increase the risk of marine heatwaves and subsequent impacts on the Reef.
However, regional weather conditions will influence Reef health outcomes, especially through rain, wind, and cloud cover.
Long-term Management and Reef Support
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Reef Authority) is the lead manager for protecting the environment, biodiversity, and heritage values of the Reef.
Every day our key policies, programs and actions continue to support and enhance Reef resilience.
These include controlling crown-of-thorns starfish (CoTS), Marine Park zoning, delivering activities under the Reef Joint Field Management Program, monitoring and reporting, sea country management with Traditional Owners, and working with reef-dependent industries and the community to implement Reef protection measures.
The Reef Authority also leads response actions in the event of Reef-wide / regional-scale environmental event(s), including mass coral bleaching events.
Each summer (the highest risk period for the Reef) we implement a detailed framework to respond to events across the Reef.
- This framework has been reviewed and updated for the 2023–24 summer period, to:
- maintain situational awareness within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area of Reef health and impacts;
- implement key actions as necessary (such as conducting broad-scale aerial surveys and in-water surveys to determine the extent and severity of bleaching should it occur);
- use the capacity in the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Control Program to evaluate summer Reef health impacts including adjusting crown-of-thorns starfish targeting to mitigate impacts;
- communicate Reef health status and progress on management actions to Traditional Owners and key partners and stakeholders to support cultural and ecologically sustainable use of the Reef;
- assess and amend legislation, policies and plans to ensure they are fit for purpose in building ecosystem resillience
- develop and implement management actions that contribute to the long-term ecological resilience of the Reef, including delivering the Reef Authority’s Corporate Plan and the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.
Assessment and monitoring
The Reef Authority collaborates with science and management institutions to maintain a contemporary understanding of Reef health and the impacts of climate change on the World Heritage Area.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, and other research institutions will continue to deliver monitoring and research that documents the long-term trend of Reef conditions and climate patterns.
This includes multiple monitoring programs under the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP). Depending on the Reef health events experienced over the summer period, Reef Authority resources may also be directed towards additional monitoring. Plans are well established for this eventuality.
Situational awareness of conditions on the Great Barrier Reef
The Reef Authority is closely monitoring the forecast conditions and near-real-time climate and weather observations and will be drawing together remote sensing technology, aerial surveillance, and in-water observations.
Tourism operators, Indigenous Rangers and researchers also contribute valuable intelligence.
Combined with the Reef Authority’s observations, this provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive picture of Reef health available.
The Reef Authority is consulting with key partners and stakeholders, including the Queensland and Commonwealth
governments, Traditional Owners, the marine tourism industry, fishers, and other Reef-dependent industries,
and the Local Marine Advisory Committees.
Our engagement includes keeping them informed of current Reef conditions, any impacts, and the Reef Authority's and partners' approach in protecting World Heritage values.
The Reef Authority will communicate timely, accurate information on recent observations and forecast predictions to our key partners and critical stakeholder groups.
This will be achieved through our regular Reef health updates and through our existing Reef health communications network, Marine Tourism Incident Response Group and Scientific Advisory Group.
We work to collaborate and coordinate with relevant stakeholders to ensure consistent reporting.
The Reef Authority will prioritise communication with the Minister for the Environment and Water, Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, our Board and Queensland partners about current conditions and any emerging impacts.