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Research Highlight: Inaugural summer reef snapshot published

The health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a topical issue which has received considerable public and government attention. Because the Reef is vast, as large as a mid-size country, there is considerable variation in the condition of different reefs that make up the entire system.

Some reefs have been severely affected by coral bleaching, cyclones and crown of thorns starfish, while others remain less affected. Contradictory perspectives presented in the public domain combined with people’s varying personal experiences of different parts of the reef contribute to public confusion about the overall health of the GBR.

AIMS, with its long-term and broad-scale scientific understanding of the Reef built over 35 years, joined forces with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and CSIRO to produce the first annual Reef Snapshot which was released following the summer of 2019-20.

This collaboration between the three Australian Government agencies with comprehensive expertise in reef science and management provides a clear, evidence-based explanation of the status of the Reef. The Snapshot describes the condition of the Reef following the summer, what the agencies are doing to monitor and protect it, and practical ways the public can help the Reef. It is the first time the three Commonwealth agencies involved in the reef have come together to provide a single source of information on the health of the GBR.

Drawing from current reports and studies, the publication includes evidence-based assessments of the health of corals along the length and breadth of the Great Barrier Reef. It also communicates the vastness, complexity and changing nature of the reef, while at the same time acknowledging differences in the health of the 3000 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef. By providing a clear and coherent voice across the three agencies in the format of a concise, accurate, easy-to-understand summary, the Reef Snapshot can help the non-scientist understand better the status of the Reef.

The Reef Snapshot explains the pressures affecting the reef, including cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish and coral bleaching, in terms of disturbance, decline and recovery. These disturbances are occurring more often, are longer-lasting and more severe than in previous decades, leaving the reef with less time to recover.

With a focus on the status of reefs in different regions, the Reef Snapshot also highlights the importance of rigorous monitoring, management and scientific research investigating coral resilience and adaptation in order to protect the Reef for future generations.

The Reef Snapshot also describes the results of initial surveys of the third mass coral bleaching event in five years following the second warmest summer on record in Queensland. It sets the scene for more detailed reports later in 2020, including AIMS’ Annual Summary Report on Coral Reef Condition to be released mid-year, based on surveys conducted by AIMS’ Long-term Monitoring Program (LTMP).

AIMS’ LTMP has been surveying the GBR for more than 35 years, providing the most comprehensive record of coral condition of a reef ecosystem available in the world. Ninety-three reefs are routinely monitored as part of the LTMP, to determine long-term trends in the condition of coral communities. An additional 32 inshore reefs are monitored as part of the Reef 2050 Plan Marine Monitoring Program managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

This expertise and experience gives AIMS its reputation as a world-leading, independent provider of science on the Great Barrier Reef and supports its goal of providing government and industry with timely, accurate and relevant information to manage and operate in Australia’s marine estate.