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Aerial surveys conducted by the Reef Authority in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) spanning two-thirds of the Marine Park confirm that a widespread coral bleaching event is unfolding across the Great Barrier Reef. 

Observations were collected from over 300 inshore, midshelf and offshore reefs, from Cape Melville north of Cooktown to just north of Bundaberg (southern boundary of the Marine Park). Some areas are yet to be surveyed. 

Reef Authority Chief Scientist Dr Roger Beeden said the results of these surveys are consistent with the patterns of heat stress that have built up over summer. 

“The results are consistent with what we have seen with above average sea surface temperatures across the Marine Park for an extended period of time,” Dr Beeden said.

“Aerial surveys of the Reef have revealed prevalent shallow water coral bleaching on most surveyed reefs. 

“It is important to note, that the heat stress has not been even across the Reef, and the coral bleaching observed is variable. 

“Monitoring the health of the Reef is a year-round effort for the Reef Authority, and it’s critical for us to understand what is happening on the Reef so we can target our management actions to protect the Reef and strengthen its resilience,” 

“Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and coral reefs globally,” Dr Beeden said.

This unfolding coral bleaching event follows similar reports from reefs around the world during the past 12 months. Reefs in the Northern Hemisphere have suffered coral bleaching as a result of climate change which has driven elevated sea surface temperatures, amplified by El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

AIMS Senior Research Scientist Dr Neal Cantin said that the aerial surveys provide a visual indication of the extent of bleaching. However, assessing the severity to coral colonies requires in-water surveys. 

“Aerial surveys are a crucial tool for a reef ecosystem as large as the Great Barrier Reef and show that this coral bleaching event is widespread, or what is commonly called a mass coral bleaching event,” Dr Cantin said.

“We now need to combine the spatial coverage captured from the air with in-water surveys to assess the severity of coral bleaching in deeper reef habitats across the different regions of the Marine Park,” he said. 

“We will continue to conduct in-water observations with our research teams and management partners.” 

Dr Cantin added that bleaching was a stress response from which corals could recover, depending on the duration and intensity of heat stress. However, prolonged, or intense heat could result in coral mortality. 

While under pressure, the Great Barrier Reef remains a vast and beautiful ecosystem. Actions to protect the Reef are now more important than ever – everyone has a role to play in helping protect the Reef for future generations.

“The Great Barrier Reef is bigger than Italy, and it is important to remember that impacts to the Reef are highly variable. The Reef has demonstrated its capacity to recover from previous coral bleaching events, severe tropical cyclones, and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.” Dr Beeden said.

The Reef Authority will continue to work closely with research and other science partners, Traditional Owners, and the tourism industry to monitor conditions on the Reef. 


Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media Hotline: (07) 4750 0846 |

Vision can be downloaded here.

For more information read our latest Reef Health update.

Updated 25 Mar 2024
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