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Great Barrier Reef gets tick for coral regrowth but overall health ‘very poor’

Insiders expect the vote on the in-danger rating to go down to the wire. An in-danger rating would be bad PR for the tourism drawcard.

The summer of 2020-21 was relatively mild with no major cyclones, enabling a strong recovery in hard corals. AIMS reported 39 per cent hard coral coverage over southern reefs, 26 per cent in the central reefs and 27 per cent in the north. However, the growth was “largely due to increases in fast-growing acropora corals”, raising fears other corals had not fared as well.

“The Great Barrier Reef remains exposed to the predicted consequences of climate change, including more severe cyclones and more frequent and intense marine heatwaves. The observed recovery has been seen previously and can be reversed in a short amount of time,” the AIMS report said.

China is chairing the World Heritage Committee and Australian media reports have linked the country to the proposed in-danger listing. Ms Ley has not named China but has said “clearly there were politics behind it”.

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Chinese Vice-Minister of Education Tian Xuejun, president of this year’s World Heritage Committee, said this week Australia should “fulfil the duty of World Heritage protection instead of making groundless accusations against other states”.

A recent Australian Academy of Sciences report said if the world warmed by 2 degrees, just 1 per cent of corals would survive. The earth has already warmed by 1.1 degrees and medium-range estimates forecast 1.5 degrees of warming by 2045 to 2050.

Tom Bridge, senior curator of Corals at the Queensland Museum and the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said despite the welcome growth in coral cover over the past few years, climate change was driving more frequent, catastrophic bleaching events, which would outpace the capacity of corals to fully recover.

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Dr Bridge said coral recovery was driven primarily by fast-growing coral species but little was known about how these events had affected the overall diversity of corals on the reef.

“It’s great that there’s been recovery but the factors that caused the decline are still there and getting worse – this needs to be addressed,” he said. “The recovery is driven by a few fast-growing species of acropra corals and it’s possible we’ve lost diversity without even knowing.”

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