University of Sydney researchers inspect the Great Barrier Reeef underwater.

Can we save the Great Barrier Reef from mass coral bleaching?

31 March 2017

The future of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of climate-induced coral bleaching is of grave concern. A panel of experts will discuss what can be done to slow or prevent alarming rates of mass coral bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef is once again in trouble, research co-authored by University of Sydney marine biologists has confirmed.

Published in the prestigious journal Nature, the study was conducted by a team of over 40 researchers and detailed the devastating impacts of three mass coral bleaching events – in 1998, 2002 and 2016.

The Sydney Environment Institute and Greenpeace Australia Pacific will bring the researchers together at the Sydney Ideas event, Global Warming and the Mass Bleaching of Corals on 31 March. The expert panel will present the research findings – and discuss what action we can take to slow or prevent coral bleaching.  

University of Sydney researcher mapping the Great Barrier Reef.

University of Sydney researcher mapping the Great Barrier Reef. 

Key Researcher at the Sydney Environment Institute, Professor Maria Byrne will join Professor Terry Hughes to discuss their research findings.

Professor Byrne led the research team that monitored and mapped the southern Barrier Reef, at One Tree Island. The area had a “lucky escape” after wind, cloud cover and rain from ex-cyclone Winston kept the waters cool.

“Who would have thought that we would be looking to cyclones to rescue reefs from the worst of the intense warming that accompany El Niño events?” Professor Byrne said.

However, other areas of the Great Barrier Reef were not as lucky: the research team found that last year’s coral bleaching event was the worst on record, with around two-thirds of coral along a 700km stretch north of Port Douglas lost.

Improving water quality and other remedial measures can assist coral health, but they are futile if the corals are already dead. Surely this is the clarion call the country needs.
Professor Iain McCalman, Co-Director of Sydney Environment Institute

Joining Professor Byrne and Professor McCalman on the panel, will be David Ritter, Chief Executive Officer, Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

"The great bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef that took place last summer has now been followed by a second consecutive mass bleaching event, both driven by global warming,” David Ritter, Research Affiliate with the Sydney Environment Institute, said.  

“Yet governments are still supporting the opening of new fossil fuel reserves - including the Carmichael mine in Queensland, which would be a disaster for the Reef. 

“This Sydney Ideas event - featuring some eminent experts in the field - could not come at a more important time for our Reef."

Sydney Ideas panel:

  • Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • David Ritter, Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific
  • Professor Maria Byrne, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Sydney
  • Professor Iain McCalman, Research Professor of History at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute

About Sydney Environment Institute:

Sydney Environment Institute is a cross-disciplinary research hub at the University of Sydney, which provides a platform to inform public discourse and decision-making in relation to the impact of climate change on society and the environment.

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Katie Booth

Media & PR Adviser (Business School)

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