The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem is at a crossroad, and it is decisions made in the next few years that are likely to determine its long-term future. Unavoidably, future predictions of climate change dominate most aspects of the Great Barrier Reef’s outlook over the next few decades. The extent and persistence of the damage to the ecosystem will depend to a large degree on the amount of change in the world’s climate and on the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem in the immediate future.
This first Outlook Report identifies climate change, continued declining water quality from catchment runoff, loss of coastal habitats from coastal development and remaining impacts from fishing and illegal fishing and poaching as the priority issues reducing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef. It also highlights gaps in information required for a better understanding of ecosystem resilience.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse and remarkable ecosystems in the world and remains one of the most healthy coral reef ecosystems. Nevertheless, its condition has declined significantly since European settlement and, as a result, the overall resilience of the ecosystem has been reduced.
While populations of almost all marine species are intact and there are no records of extinctions, some ecologically important species, such as dugongs, marine turtles, seabirds, black teatfish and some sharks, have declined significantly. Although the declines of loggerhead turtles and dugongs are believed to have halted, there are few examples of increasing populations in species of conservation concern. The obvious example is the humpback whale, which is recovering strongly after being decimated by whaling. Disease in corals and pest outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and cyanobacteria appear to be becoming more frequent and more serious.