The Main Issues with Great Barrier Reef

Categories: Water Quality

The great reef is a significant global feature that extends towards Bundaberg along the Australian coast. Its composition is made of approximately two thousand nine hundred isolated reefs and nine hundred and forty cays and islands that stretch for two thousand three hundred kilometers and covers a surface of nearly three thousand four hundred and forty-four thousand four hundred square kilometers. It is situated near the Coral Sea, and a greater percentage of it is covered by the Marine Park. According to the report filed by the authorities manning the reef in 2014, it was evident that environmental degradation has adversely affected the reef and its surrounding environs.

The key outstanding environmental crisis includes; climate change, overfishing, and water quality concerns among other anthropogenic factors. Other factors that come into play include storms and coral bleaching.

Terry Hughes states that competition for mining royalties and poor legislative framework presents a major challenge to the site. Queensland in collaboration with Australia formed a partnership aiming to protect the site.

Various investigations show that corals are dying around throughout globe. Human activities that pose danger to corals include contamination, blast fishing, mining, overfishing, access to bays, and the creation of canals. Other damaging factors include warming oceans, damaging fishing practices, and diseases. Carbon dioxide sink, ultraviolet light, dust storms, algal blooms, and atmospheric changes may also threaten the coral’s lives. Bleaching is also a result of warming and it severely kills the coral reefs.


Water quality

In 1989 water quality was identified as one of the threatening factors to the Barrier Reef.

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The catchment area is comprised of 30 rivers and several streams that cover four hundred and twenty-three thousand kilometers square of land. Properties of water that threaten the lives of corals include water salinity, nutrients, temperature, pesticides together with suspended particle concentrations. Species living in the Barrier Reef tolerate fluctuation in water properties however when the optimum levels are exceeded the reefs may be extremely affected. Discharges from the rivers are the major source of nutrients and they lead to pollution during tropical floods with over ninety percent of pollution coming from farms. Until 1995 the water visibility was reduced to ten meters. A significant risk to water quality is posed by farming the sugar and animal feeding in the tropics.

Mining Pollution

Nickel Company in Queensland released nitrates pollutants into the water. This polluted water released five hundred and sixteen tons of contaminated water. In the year 2012, the company threatened to discharge more toxic waste on-site for three months. The Authorities claim that Nickel threatened to impose a fine of six billion dollars if it involves authorities in their operations. Authorities convinced the firm to consider other means other than letting toxic wastewater into the site additionally to construct a plan to aid the removal of all potentially harmful substances (Hughes et al., 373).


A report by the United Nations of 2012 created by members of WHC after visiting the site criticized its operations style. In particular, it is claimed that there should not exist newly created ports outside. The environment minister of Australia validated the project to develop terminals that are included in creating a coal port. The dredge spoils have a major threat to the reef together with the seafloor churning leading to air blockage and water from entering the site. Lack of light or air will lead to reefs’ starvation. Additionally, spoil may smother reefs to death. Interrupted seafloor may also discharge hazardous substances into the site.

Sea bleaching and temperature of the site

Climate change presents a major threat to the site system and it is caused by increased ocean acidification, sea temperature, and intense weather fluctuations (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 1737-1742). A rise in temperature by two or three degrees Celsius results in ninety-seven percent bleaching of the site annually. Most coral reef scientist has anticipated significant negative effects from climate changes that have already occurred and future damages as the climate continues to worsen. The upcoming conditions of the site depend much on the world’s climate variations and the concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. A rise in carbon dioxide levels to four hundred and fifty parts per million increases the vulnerability of the coral reef’s habitats. When the amount of carbon dioxide is maintained below three hundred and eighty parts per million the amount of vulnerability will be maintained at moderate levels and the reefs will be in favorable conditions and dominated by corals. Global warming propagates the collapse of the coral reef system all over the tropics. Furthermore, an increase in global temperatures can lead to more rapid tropical storms but the reef system is naturally resistant to damage caused by storms and it can recover from storm destruction (Munday et al., 261-285).

Crown of Thorns Starfish

It is an animal that feeds on coral reefs by absorbing liquids from the coral’s tissues. One adult of this species can eat up to eight square meters of a healthy reef annually. According to investigations conducted by geologists, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish have been incorporated into the site’s ecosystem for several years but they have not caused any disease outbreak caused by Crown of Thorns. The first disease outbreak occurred in the 1960s. Such outbreaks can devastate the coral reefs. The 2000 outbreak led to a loss of sixty-six percent of coral reefs. A wide range of outbreaks of such starfish is believed to emerge from natural cycles but the effects are worsened by human activities around or within the site. The decrease in water quality due to agricultural practices can allow the crown-of-thorns starfish larvae to grow and develop. Fertilizers used in farming are carried to the reef by water runoff and this increases the quantity of phytoplankton that will be consumed by the specie’s larvae. According to an investigation conducted by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, increasing the amount of chlorophyll in water results allows the larvae to thrive (Little et al., 1950-1959). Additionally, the overfishing of natural predators of starfish, for example, Giant Trion increases the number of Crown of Thorns Starfish in the Reef.


Overfishing of significant species such as sharks and Giant Triton can lead to disruption of the food chain that forms a part of the system. Harvesting of fish can also affect the reef through pollution from ships and boats, fishing of unwanted animals such as turtles and dolphins, and destruction of the reef habitat by nets, trawling, and anchors. When the herbivore groups are overfished there will be significant growth of algae on the reefs. The park is safeguarded from fishing of any kind of species without a written permit. However, people are still conducting illegal poaching within the area. According to a 2015 research coral trout in the no-fishing zone within the site are more after the tropical cyclone periods. The Authority came up with a hotline for people to suspected poachers.


Shipping routes that cross-site are involved in accidents that pose threats to the corals. According to Authority, approximately six thousand vessels that are greater than one hundred and sixty-four feet in length use the Reef as their route. Many ships prefer to use the reef route to the outside of the reef because it is much safer during mechanical failures. Seventy-five percent of the ships that travel through the site use the inner route. As of 2007, more than a thousand six hundred ship accidents have occurred within the site. Waste products from wrecked ships are biological threats to the coral reefs. Substances like TBT which are found in antifouling paint are toxic to humans, organisms, and marines (Madin et al., 121-137).

Research Currently Being Done To Restore The Coral Reefs In Indonesia By The Coral Reef Global Alliance

Karang Lestari project was the first step to restoring the damaged Indonesian reef. The Global Coral Reef Alliance has proposed a large-scale reef restoration program. Students from both Bogor and Udayana University have started research programs one this project. Students and fishermen are being trained on the methods for restoring coral reefs as well as generating harvestable species. The research program is planned to collaborate with the Research Laboratory for Coastal Fisheries at Gondol to create applications for generating more harvestable species that can be farmed by the people as alternatives to the removal of unwanted species. Potential areas for conducting laboratory research have been selected at Nusa Penida and Lembongan. By conducting such research on coral reef restoration Indonesia can combat the currently unsustainable overfishing (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2018).

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The Main Issues with Great Barrier Reef. (2022, May 30). Retrieved from

The Main Issues with Great Barrier Reef
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