Australia Slammed for Not Protecting Great Barrier Reef From Climate Change

The Australian government is under fire after an extensive report detailing the effects of climate change on its Great Barrier Reef was released Friday.

The report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority tackles intense bleaching across the reef, which has been attributed to high ocean temperatures. The report was released three days before the United Nations is set to determine whether the reef's World Heritage listing should be downgraded, which has reportedly been favored by the Australian government. However, the report says the reef needs more help now than ever before.

"Weather patterns over the next few weeks will be critical in determining the overall extent and severity of coral bleaching across the Marine Park," the authority's report states.

According to the Australian Conservation Society, coral bleaching is caused when corals in reefs are under a significant amount of stress. Heat is a primary cause of such stress, with the coral releasing the algae forming in its tissues when it gets to be too much for it to handle. Reefs can sometimes recover from coral bleaching, but only when their previous conditions are restored over the span of decades. If water temperatures continue to rise, then coral reefs could die out, leaving the Great Barrier Reef in a precarious situation.

Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef has again been hit with "widespread" bleaching, authorities said on March 18, as higher-than-average ocean temperatures off Australia's northeast threaten the already struggling World Heritage site. Above, shows the current condition of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of the Australian state of Queensland on March 7. Photo by Glenn Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images

With the release of the report, calls for action by the Australian government are being renewed. In a new statement regarding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority's findings, environmental nonprofit Greenpeace called on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to enact stricter measures to protect the reef.

"This latest bleaching event has once again exposed the Morrison Government's failure to protect the Great Barrier Reef, throwing billions at band-aid measures while failing to address climate change, the biggest driver of catastrophic coral damage," wrote Greenpeace Australia Pacific Climate Impacts campaigner Martin Zavan.

Greenpeace is not the only organization placing blame on the government. The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) released a statement urging officials to take responsibility and to enact stricter action to protect the reef.

"The Morrison government needs to get the mission out for an aerial survey in a helicopter to view the most severely impacted areas," said AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager Dr. Lissa Schindler. "As Reef custodians, the Morrison government should also be leading the charge to an earlier net zero target and taking the world with it. Instead they have not increased their emissions reduction ambitions in this crucial decade."

Earlier this month, thinktank International Institute for Sustainable Development claimed that government officials gathered at a meeting to talk about a previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report regarding language that was used. Allegedly, these officials wanted the wording of certain sections of the report to be changed, suggesting that it should say things such as the reef "not yet [being] in crisis" and that "targeted measures and management could reduce risk" of it dying. The Guardian Australia reported on these suggestions, which were shot down by France and multiple Caribbean islands.

Newsweek has reached out to Morrison's office for comment and will update this story when a response is received.

Update at 3/18/22, 11:24 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information.