UN mission to investigate bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

Photo by Brett Monroe Garner/Greenpeace/Reuters: Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef

Contributed by Adam Carlton

A mission form the United Nations has come to Australia to take a first-hand look at the Great Barrier Reef. They want to see for themselves just how threatened Australia’s greatest natural icon is.  

The visit comes as a new wave of coral bleaching leaves its mark. The mission wants to consider the reef as a whole and determine whether it should be put on the United Nations “in danger” list.

Scientific evidence of the threat to the reef has amassed and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is due to complete aerial bleaching surveys across its 2300-kilometre length.

Great Barrier Reef facing greatest challenge as UN investigates coral bleaching 

Video from 7NEWS Australia

Although there has been serious concern for several years. Last year, UNESCO recommended that the threat to the reef because of the impact of the climate crisis be acknowledged. This flew in the face of the Morrison government’s climate policy. But listing the reef as endangered has been delayed by fierce lobbying the Australian government, which succeeded in temporarily downgrading the response to just asking Australia to review policy to better address the threat.

A year later, and after Australia’s disastrous performance in the Glasgow climate summit last year branded the Morrison government as one of the world’s worst performers on carbon reduction, the pressure has turned the other way.

The mission headed by chief scientist Dr David Wachenfeld, intends to gain a complete view of how much damage the bleaching has caused and the reasons why this is happening. The current bleaching will be compared to the five previous bleachings, and this will provide evidence of the impact of the rising global temperature.

Widespread mass bleaching of corals was first seen in 1998, and happened again in 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020. Nearly the whole reef has been affected by at least one of these events.

A difference this time is that it is occurring during a La Nina weather event, and this is significant. The ocean should be cooler then and protected from bleaching. This is no longer the case.

Defenders of the reef are concerned that the Morrison government seems to be doing everything it can to closet the mission, by denying access to its members and insisting any investigation be accompanied by scientists of its own choosing. The mining industry and other business interests have been given access.

This has prompted Greenpeace to stage a protest on Tuesday.

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