throughout the years the massive marine ecosystem network we call the Great
Barrier Reef of Australia is exposed to many controlled and uncontrolled risk
factors; therefore, management personnel of the reef
conduct surveys every summer of the networks overall health. Summer is key to
these assessments because it is when the Barrier Reef is at most risk whether
it is from severe weather such as cyclones, heat waves and or flooding. These
uncontrolled factors can lead the coral beds to very stressful conditions and subsequently
leads to substantial coral disease. Results of these surveys are what help
management in real time with current conditions of the Reef in order to later
help with the increase of health and resilience of the system. The most current
report covered data starting from December 2016 through April 2017 of the system,
which was exposed to the highest average of heat stress principally coming from
sea surface temperatures.
Extensive coral decline and habitat loss has
been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef for over the past twenty-seven years
because of coral bleaching. Conditions experienced in the winter of 2015 led to
abnormal sea surface temperatures and in addition the combined effects of El
Nino and climate change it triggered the beginning of stress levels to rise that
would then cause a domino effect until this day (De’ath et al. 2012). Summer of
2016 experienced its first effects of a massive coral bleaching loosing about
29% of shallow water reefs, according to the Marine Park Authorities.
Temperatures prolonged to be above average and the ongoing stress accumulation
resulted in a second bleaching in the summer of 2016. The Centre of Excellence
conducted aerial surveys for Coral Reef Studies (ARC) and confirmed that the
bleaching extended into another section more South than the previous year
recorded (Figure 1).
Aside from coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns
starfish are responsible
In addition, during cyclone season
(November-April), the Australian shoreline was hit by a devastating (category
4) storm – Debbie. Cyclone Debbie was recorded to be the most dangerous since
2011 and the strongest since 2015 to impact the Australian region. The tropical
storm hit Arlie Beach, Queensland and swept across the coastline on March 2017.
Aftermath following Debbie’s unforgiving hit affected the central and southern
regions of the Great Barrier Reef system bringing substantial amounts of
rainfall followed by extensive flooding episodes causing then flood plumes.
Flood plumes were experienced at the end of March 2017 after the cyclone and
through the whole month of April meaning the utmost concentration of pollutants
were at uttermost concentrations effecting reefs and other coastal marine
ecosystems. Some reefs suffered a 95% loss of coral cover and it is predicted
by Angus Thompson, head of the inshore reef monitoring program, that a decade
must pass before reaching prior coral cover (Figure 2), (McLeish, 2017).