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Climate change and Central Queensland coral reefs
 
Climate change is one of the greatest economic, social, and environmental challenges of our time. Expert scientific evidence (IPCC, 2007) confirms that human activity is altering the climate. Butterfly fish with encrusting coral in the Keppel Islands region of the Southern GBR

This Climate change causes:
  • Changed rainfall patterns
  • Reduced water availability in Central Queensland
  • Increasing the frequency of severe weather events such as bushfires and storms
Amongst other impacts, the effects of warming conditions on the Keppel region reefs are of particular concern as predictions are that coral bleaching will become an annual event within the next 30-50 years time.

While some corals may be able to acclimatise to climate change (to some extent) by changing their predominant symbiont types, not all corals can do so and there may be a limit to the tolerance that is gained by acclimatisation.

Good water quality and low sediment load are critical to the health of coral reefs if they are to have any chance of surviving climate change.

The Reef Rescue Plan aims to reduce the runoff of sediment, nutrient and pollutants (such as fertilizers and herbicides) that enter Keppel Bay from the Fitzroy catchment. Land holders are a big part of the solution to declining water quality along the coastline.  The Fitzroy Basin Association is working with landholders to improve the long term outcome for the fringing reefs of the Keppel Islands.

Reducing greenhouse emissions is the key to halting and reversing anthropogenic climate change impacts. CCC is continually lobbying the State and Federal Governments to reduce Australia’s greenhouse emissions and to urge other countries to do so too through agreements such as the Kyoto protocol. We need to reduce the greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere by 25% by 2020 in order to limit warming conditions to a level which corals can withstand.

FACTS and FIGURES:
* Sea temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef have warmed by about 0.4 degrees over the last century

* Warming waters are not the only risk to coral reefs, as increased CO2 in the atmosphere also increases the acidity of seawaters which can upset the balance between accretion and dissolution.

* The Great Barrier Reef has experienced eight mass coral bleaching events since 1979

* Coral bleaching is projected to occur each year by as soon as 2030

* there is little evidence that corals have the capacity for genetic change to adapt within this timeframe

* Substantial impacts on biodiversity and the fishing and tourism industries are likely to occur with climate change

* Improving reef water quality is an important measure to enhance the ability of coral reefs to adapt to the effects of climate change

Sediment plume entering Keppel Bay from the Fitzroy River mouth

Sediment plume entering Keppel Bay from the Fitzroy River mouth 
– Image courtesy of Ozcoasts and Geoscience Australia