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A way forward for the Great Barrier Reef

With back-to-back bleaching events the Great Barrier Reef is graphically displaying its inability to acclimatize to the stresses imposed by the current rapid rate of global climate change. Alongside global efforts to slow warming, we need to find new science-based ways forward for the Reef and the communities and industries that depend upon it.

Managing climate change refugia for local-scale persistence of valued ecological communities while longer-term bigger-picture solutions are enacted is a well-accepted approach for conservation management of terrestrial ecosystems. Corals have considerable natural capacity to acclimatize and adapt to gradually increasing temperatures, but these processes are unlikely to be able to keep pace if stressful conditions occur every year. Even conservative climate forecasts show that several decades of rapid global warming is now inevitable. If the Great Barrier Reef is to have a future, potential refugia (“havens”) not only need to be identified and prioritised, but actively defended using a range of science-based management interventions that reduce coral stress, promote coral survival, reduce bleaching severity and promote recovery after bleaching.

The Reef Havens Research Project is bringing together Australia’s best marine scientific and engineering expertise to develop some of the practical tools we need to actively and successfully defend reef sites at local scales. In combination with ongoing Reef-wide efforts to control outbreaks of coral-eating starfish, improve water quality and promote reef resilience, these practical tools will enable communities and industries to take the lead in defending their local reefs. Development and demonstrable success of these tools will enhance Australia’s international reputation as a leader in coral reef protection worldwide.

There is no suggestion that even an extremely effective and coordinated Reef Havens program could save the Reef as a whole from climate change. However, this science-based Reef Havens approach will provide data and field trials to inform a way forward for the Great Barrier Reef through the coming decades of already inevitable rapid climate change.

Media Release – 07/12/17
RRRC welcomes funding for Reef water-mixing technology as bleaching season approaches. Read More