Shortly before the elections in Australia and before a decisive assessment by the United Nations, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has slipped deeper into the crisis.

As heat waves sweep through southern Asia or Siberia, warming seas result in widespread coral bleaching in the reef along Australia's east coast.

Government scientists are now explaining this in their regular interim report, which was published with a delay of weeks.

Christopher Hein

Business correspondent for South Asia/Pacific based in Singapore.

  • Follow I follow

The tourist magnet is suffering at exactly the same time that Australia is hoping for increasing guest traffic after months of closed borders.

The reefs off the tourist coast between Cairns and Mackay are particularly badly affected.

Both the coastal corals, which are of interest to tourist groups, and those on the high seas are damaged.

In normal years, around 70,000 jobs depend on the reef.

According to Deloitte economists, it contributes around AUD 6.4 billion (EUR 4.3 billion) to the economy of the fifth continent, AUD 5.4 billion thanks to tourism alone.

The consultants estimate that the Great Barrier Reef is worth AUD 56 billion.

The State Administration of the Marine Park Great Barrier Reef (GBRMPA) in Townsville emphasizes that the reef is now being hit by a mass bleaching for the sixth time.

It can lead to the death of underwater life if no new algae are deposited.

91 percent of the examined individual reefs of the 2300 km long natural wonder are now affected.

Bleaching slows growth and reproduction and can lead to more common coral diseases.

This year, the bad news is particularly ominous for Canberra.

Intensive lobbying by the government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison had meant that the reef was not yet classified as an "endangered world heritage site" by UNESCO in 2021, against the advice of many scientists.

But this is exactly what is threatening at the next conference in June.

The opposition Labor Party, which leads in polls, has now promised a further almost 200 million Australian dollars, in particular for work with farmers on the coasts.

“This is a problem that cannot be solved with big, shiny funding announcements.

The science is clear: to save the world's reefs from total destruction, we need to drastically reduce emissions in the 2020s," says Simon Bradshaw,

In late Australian summer, the reef has suffered from above-average water temperatures throughout the reef system.

"This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998," the report said.

Temperatures around the reef had already increased in December 2021, surpassing historical highs previously recorded during the hottest summer months.

It went on like this: Sea temperatures rose throughout the Australian summer until early April, resulting in three distinct heat waves.

Of particular concern is that this is the first bleaching event in what is supposed to be a cooler "La Niña" year.

The coral disaster also seems to have surprised the authorities.

As recently as March, its chief scientist David Wachenfeld publicly stated that he did not expect bleaching in a “La Niña year”.

Nevertheless, the water around the natural wonder is now around 1.5 degrees warmer than it was 150 years ago.