Understanding the opportunities nestled within the Great Barrier Reef

This 2,300 kilometre long jewel nestled along Australia’s eastern coastline is home to a wealth of marine biodiversity unmatched anywhere in the world.

This jewel, however, is being threatened; its complex and delicately balanced ecosystem is being challenged from human activities both locally on the reef, regionally along its coastline, and globally.

These impacts are being felt in deteriorating water quality, rising water temperatures due to climate change and increasing ocean acidification. They are being seen in dramatic losses in coral cover and habitat.

Improving and preserving the Reef

Natural ecosystems are designed for resilience, but the size and scale of these impacts mentioned are presenting significant challenges even for such a large icon like the Great Barrier Reef. 

Monitoring ocean acidification on the Great Barrier Reef

Measuring our Impact

Water quality

More about our water quality research

A key focus of protection and recovery efforts is the catchments and coastline adjoining the Reef. Land use in these areas has a major influence on water quality around the reef. The Australian and Queensland governments' Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan provides an overarching strategy for managing the Great Barrier Reef. Both governments have pledged significant investments to improve water quality on the Reef and set targets with the aim of reducing suspended sediment and nitrogen runoff by 2050. As Australia's national science agency, we are ideally positioned to bring the best science to this goal and to support Federal and State governments in deciding and implementing policies to achieve this.

More about our water quality research

Rising water temperatures

Hard corals are highly susceptible to coral bleaching caused by higher-than-normal sea temperatures. Coral bleaching is expected to occur more often and with greater severity in the future, making it difficult for corals to recover between bleaching events. As a result, the abundance of living corals on reefs is likely to decline in coming decades.

More about our adaptation research

Ocean acidification

The term ocean acidification is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human carbon dioxide emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels. The oceans currently absorb approximately half of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuel. However, there is a cost; when carbon dioxide dissolves in water it (slightly) increases the water's acidity, or lowers its pH. This affects the ability of marine creatures such crustaceans, corals and coralline algae to build their skeletons, endangering them significantly.

More about ocean acidification

Monitoring for practice change in Great Barrier Reef catchments

Improving the quality of water-draining agricultural land in catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef is a very high priority. Tracking progress in relation to better water quality requires monitoring.

With a view to stimulate a broader discussion between research, government and community stakeholders in the lead up to future investments in additional water quality monitoring systems, this paper offers some principles and a conceptual framework to guide the design of integrated monitoring systems.

Download the discussion paper [pdf · 1mb]

How our research is benefiting the Reef

Environmental sustainability and remediation

We help formulate guidelines, used by the Australian and Queensland governments, to invest in and target GBR hotspots suffering the most damage. We also apply the latest technology and management frameworks to accelerate recovery of damaged reefs.

Improved management and monitoring

We have provided innovative and automated marine and estuarine water quality monitoring systems. These provide datasets that underpin the modelling and reporting frameworks that support plans such as Reef 2050. This has led to more monitoring for compliance from farming industries but also using water quality monitoring as a learning tool to support practice change.

Read more about Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan .

Developing innovative solutions with new technologies

Our technologies to reduce the export of pollutants (nitrogen, pesticides, sediments) to the Reef include new slow release fertiliser technology in sugar cane as well as improved grazing management and monitoring methods for cattle properties in GBR catchments.

Controlling threats

We are a partner of the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) and assist with developing technology and management plans to control key threats such as the Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS).

Read more about NESP .

Introducing new technologies to assess and view specific and holistic impacts on the reef ecosystems

We are an important partner in initiatives such as eReefs. It uses remote sensing, models and data visualisation to provide a picture of what is currently happening on the reef and what will likely happen in the future.  This further helps to prioritise funding initiatives and support water quality efforts. 

Using new technology for coral reef science

Stakeholder engagement

The complexity and magnitude of challenges facing GBR cannot be met by any single institution.

To provide a complete picture of what is currently happening on the reef and what will likely happen in the future, partnering is paramount.

Initiative’s such as Reef 2050 is a good starting point bringing the partners together. CSIRO continues to collaborate with a range of stakeholders including the Australian and Queensland governments, tourism industry, national universities, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation , Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Institute of Marine Science, landholders and many more.

Understanding the human dimension of the Great Barrier Reef 

Contact us to find out how we can help your business thrive

Contact Christian Roth or Peter Stone to discuss collaboration opportunities across the Great Barrier Reef and its catchments.