Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the coral bleaching threat level on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park will be increased to its highest level.
Mr Hunt took a flight over Lizard Island in Queensland’s far north to view the bleaching event, after researchers working on the island reported the worst level of bleaching in 15 years.
But Mr Hunt said it was not as bad as first thought.
“It is not as severe at this stage as 1998 or 2002, which were both El Nino-related events, it is however, in the northern parts a cause for concern,” Mr Hunt said.
“The reef is 2300 kilometres long and the bottom three-quarters is in strong condition, but as we head north, it becomes increasingly prone to bleaching.
“Essentially what you could see was patches of coral bleaching as you approached Lizard Island.”
The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute surveyed 40 sites in the far northern section of the reef and again in 2014, following Tropical Cyclone Ita.
The federal government will now fund another survey of the same sites in September this year.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s chairman Russell Reichelt welcomed the Government’s response.
“The new project that the Minister is announcing today is really high technology and will speed up the rate of which we can get a full snapshot of the reef, using imaging recognition software, very much faster than the diver underwater days,” he said.
The United Nations’ World Heritage Committee decided against declaring the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” in May last year, but says it will closely monitor the situation.
Prior to handing down their decision, committee delegates commended Australia’s efforts in developing the Reef 2050 protection plan, which bans the dumping at sea of dredge spoil, limits port development and focuses on cleaning up water running onto the reef.