Great Barrier Reef Coral Bleaching Response Plan Summer 2007-2008
Large-scale coral bleaching events, driven by unusually warm sea temperatures, have now affected every major coral reef ecosystem on the planet (Wilkinson 2004). The effects of coral bleaching are pervasive, and potentially devastating to ecosystems and the people and industries that depend upon them. The frequency and severity of these large-scale disturbances is predicted to increase as temperatures continue to warm under a global regime of climate change. Climate change, in combination with the multitude of other stressors resulting from human activities, is leading to unprecedented pressure on coral reefs. Understanding the effects and implications of coral bleaching, and identifying strategies to reduce stress and mitigate impacts, are urgent challenges for the conservation and management of coral reefs worldwide.
The Great Barrier Reef has experienced two major coral bleaching events in recent years: 1998 and 2002. The spatial extent of these events, combined with the high level of mortality seen at severely affected sites, has lead to widespread concern about the future of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of global climate change. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), in collaboration with the Australian Greenhouse Office, has initiated a climate change critical issue group to address the challenges of climate change for the Great Barrier Reef. The climate change group aims to improve understanding of the linkages between major components of the social-ecological system, to evaluate their vulnerability under future climate scenarios, and to identify strategies to minimise the impacts of climate change.
The GBRMPA’s Coral Bleaching Response Plan (the response plan) has been developed to provide an early warning system of conditions that lead to coral bleaching. The response plan outlines methods to document the extent and severity of coral bleaching, using broad-scale synoptic surveys to quantify the area of bleached coral and intensive in-water surveys to document the ecological impacts of coral bleaching. The information collected under this plan can be used to compare and analyse the frequency and patterns of bleaching events and to develop forecasting tools.
This plan has been developed to complement other monitoring programmes and to facilitate data exchange and synthesis. The bleaching survey design uses the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) Long-term Monitoring Programme protocol and field sites. The broad-scale synoptic surveys are carried out in collaboration with the remote sensing group at the University of Queensland and CSIRO.