25 Feb 2017


The 2016 mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has set back – by at least two decades – efforts to improve the condition of our national icon. That’s the view of a group of independent experts who have just provided UNESCO with their own evaluation of the Reef 2050 Plan, including ways it can be improved.

“These independent experts have given UNESCO a far more accurate assessment of progress than the rose-coloured-glasses version released by the Australian and Queensland Governments late last year,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“We are still counting the cost of the 2016 bleaching as the threat looms that there could be more substantial bleaching in coming months. Strengthening the Reef 2050 Plan has never been more important,” he said.

The main points in the GBR Independent Review Group’s report include:

  • The 2016 mass coral bleaching, caused by global warming, “has substantially diminished the Outstanding Universal Value of the GBR WHA.”
  • Given how long coral takes to recover, Australia’s aim of ensuring the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier improves every decade between now and 2050 “is no longer attainable for at least the next two decades”
  • “Australia’s current national emission reduction targets are not commensurate with a fair contribution to the reduced global carbon budget required to meet the Paris Agreement targets and protect the GBR WHA and coral reefs worldwide.”
  • “up to third of the 103 actions [in Reef 2050] flagged as ‘on track/underway’ are really just starting, or are seriously under-resourced.”
  • The Government has admitted a funding gap of between $143 and $408 million to implement Reef 2050 Plan actions. However, the Review Group says this funding gap “is under-estimated” and strategies to address the gap “are poorly constructed, non-comprehensive and add little to the achievement of the Reef 2050 Plan.”

The Review Group says there is some good work underway which must be scaled up and adequately financed and it has made 27 recommendations to strengthen the Reef 2050 Plan.

WWF-Australia says all 27 recommendations should be implemented with top priority given to the following improvements:

  • Effectively regulating sugarcane production, grazing and land clearing practices to improve water quality for the Reef and protect catchments * Immediately increasing annual investment to improve water quality to better reflect the 2016 Alluvium and Jacobs reports
  • Progressing effective climate policy measures to reduce emissions to meet the 1.5oC UNFCC Paris Agreement target and do our fair share in the global context.
  • Implementing the commercial fisheries reform measures to ensure sustainable fishing in the World Heritage Area.

“WWF-Australia calls on Australia to follow the Review Group’s road map for what should happen next,” Mr Leck said.

The Review Group has urged the Australian and Queensland governments to incorporate its recommendations in the mid-term review of the first five years of the Plan.


The authors of the Report are:

  • Professor Terry Hughes, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
  • Professor Barry Hart, Emeritus Professor at Monash University; Director, Water Science Pty Ltd
  • Professor Karen Hussey, Deputy Director at the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland
  • Diane Tarte, Convenor, GBR Independent Review Group; Director, Marine Ecosystem Policy Advisors Pty Ltd

Preparation of this report was supported by The Thomas Foundation and WWF-Australia.


Paula Kruger, WWF-Australia News and Public Affairs Manager, 0407 067 303, pkruger@wwf.org.au