28 June 2017


The Whitsunday’s Heart Reef – the stunning coral formation used to attract thousands of visitors to Australia – has dodged the cyclone damage that pulverised coral on a nearby reef.

Video released by WWF-Australia shows it was a lucky escape for the heart-shaped structure with Cyclone Debbie smashing coral just 18 km away at Bait Reef.

But while Heart Reef avoided cyclone damage, it appears to have suffered some bleaching, according to Associate Professor Paul Marshall, formerly the climate change director for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who viewed WWF’s vision.

“I could see some dead coral, covered in algae, and it’s likely bleaching was responsible. It shows no part of the Reef is immune to bleaching,” Dr Marshall said.

Bleaching and cyclone damage will be on the minds of World Heritage Committee members gathering in Poland this weekend for their annual meeting.

The plight of the Great Barrier Reef is on the agenda and so is a report stating that most world heritage coral reefs are expected to be seriously impacted by climate change.

An underwater heat wave, caused by climate change, has fatally bleached large sections of the Great Barrier Reef for the past two years.

Meantime, a spate of destructive storms has “led to speculation that the intensification of Tropical Cyclones (fewer TCs overall, more of them at higher intensity) projected for the southwest Pacific under global warming is already occurring in the GBR region”.

For more than 30 years, between 1970 and 2004, no category 4 or 5 cyclones crossed the Great Barrier Reef.

But in recent years eight intense cyclones have hit the Reef: Ingrid 2005(5); Larry 2006(5); Hamish 2009(5); Yasi 2011(5); Ita 2014(5); Marcia 2015(5); Nathan 2015(4); and Debbie 2017(4).

“The burning of dirty fossil fuels has caused back-to-back mass bleaching and may be behind a run of intense cyclones. Australia must do its fair share to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 C,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“Saving the Reef depends on global efforts to combat climate change and governments, local communities, businesses and non-government organisations working together to manage local threats such as water quality,” said Dr Marshall.

“The lucky escape of Heart Reef gives us hope, and inspires us to try harder,” he said.

Christian Miller who filmed the Bait Reef destruction said: “In my 25 years of diving around the world, the scene I saw at Bait Reef was one of the most devastating. It was like a bulldozer had been driven over it. There were piles of rubble everywhere.”

WWF-Australia is encouraging people to sign a petition at https://explore.panda.org/oceans urging greater action to save our Oceans.

Aerial view of Hardy Reef taken on 20 June 2017 to assess if the Heart Reef has been bleached
© WWF-Aus / Christian Miller
Patches on Heart Reef are likely to be corals killed by bleaching
© WWF-Aus / Christian Miller
Graph showing the location of the Heart Reef and where the bleaching has occurred
© WWF-Australia

Graph showing the location of the Heart Reef and where the bleaching has occurred © WWF-Australia

[i] Beeden R, Maynard J, Puotinen M, Marshall P, Dryden J, Goldberg J, et al. (2015) Impacts and Recovery from Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi on the Great Barrier Reef. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121272. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121272; http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121272

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571