Veteran diver devastated after grim Great Barrier Reef report released

The Aussie's warning comes after the release of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s latest stark snapshot of the climate-change impacts.

Hearing bad news about the Great Barrier Reef is "never a surprise for" a veteran diving instructor who has been exploring the UNESCO-listed site since 1979. But an announcement by Australian officials that 73 per cent of the reef has been subjected to bleaching has left Tony Fontes “distressed”.

"When I look back at photos from back then I get all misty-eyed and think: What’s happened?" Fontes told Yahoo News Australia. "It’s the scale of the 2023/2024 bleaching and its record impact on the cooler southern part of the reef that’s different this time."

"It tells us there’s no place on the reef that’s not vulnerable to bleaching," he said, following the release of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s grim snapshot of which found widespread climate driven impacts.

Veteran diver Tony Fontes, left, beside coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef, right.
Veteran diver Tony Fontes is calling for urgent government action to combat soaring rates of mass bleaching events. Source: Supplied / CSIRO

Veteran diver's desperate plea after shocking new government report

While the bleaching has been extensive and the reef is clearly "in trouble", Fontes wants the public to know there are still dive sites that have not been impacted by the current event.

Comprising 3000 individual reefs across 2300 kilometres, there are still "good diving" spots, but these places are becoming harder to find.

"I’m not trying to paint a pretty picture here, it’s just there’s more to the reef than meets the eye," he said.

With the future of the reef at stake, Fontes is calling on the tourism operators to speak out publicly about the bleaching and its threat to their industry. Many have multimillion dollar investments in boats and fear news of mass bleaching will deter visitors.

"Generally speaking, the industry is very close-mouthed about any harm out on the reef, because obviously they fear it will hurt their bottom line,” he said. "It’s not that we need to tell the world that the reef has got problems, we need to tell the government they need to do more. The tourism industry as a collective could be very powerful."

A side by side view of bleaching in Eyrie Reef near Lizard Island in 2023 vs 2024, showing more extreme bleaching this year.
Eyrie Reef near Lizard Island in the Reef’s far north. Source: CSIRO

Great Barrier Reef suffers 'worst summer on record'

This week, a report conducted by the Federal Government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found it had suffered "the worst summer on record", enduring cyclones, severe flooding, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and a mass coral bleaching event.

According to the report, aerial surveys conducted in over 1000 spots across reed uncovered that coral bleaching was observed in a staggering 73 per cent of locations.

The "Reef Summer Snapshot" found the highest levels of coral bleaching had taken place across the southern region, where temperatures are normally cooler, and parts of the centre and north, where corals were exposed to record levels of heat stress in some areas.

According to scientists, these "extreme conditions" are directly related to the ongoing impacts of climate change and highlight the desperate need for immediate action, to protect irreplaceable coral reefs.

Reef official slams 'devastating' milestone

Anna Marsen, managing director at the non-profit Great Barrier Reef Foundation branded this week's report a "devastating" milestone".

"This week we’ve reached devastating milestones for our Great Barrier Reef and the world’s coral reefs," she said. "The confirmation that the Reef has suffered its worst summer on record amidst a fourth global bleaching event underscores what the science has been telling us for some time — coral reefs are on the frontline of climate change.

The same section of reef near Lizard Island in December 2023 then in March 2024, with more than 90 per cent bleached or dead (left). Severe bleaching also seen on Lizard Island (right).
The same section of reef near Lizard Island in December 2023 then in March 2024, with more than 90 per cent bleached or dead (left). Severe bleaching also seen on Lizard Island (right). Source: CSIRO

"If we do not take immediate action to reduce global emissions and implement effective conservation measures, we risk losing these irreplaceable ecosystems forever."

Marsen said the reef sustained "a terrible summer and she’s hurting". "We’re funding critical actions at a critical time and working together to implement solutions at a scale and pace never before attempted," she said.

Mass bleaching of coral reefs, since early 2023, has been confirmed in at least 53 countries and territories in the US, the Caribbean, the Eastern Tropical Pacific, the Great Barrier Reef, large areas of the South Pacific, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Aden.

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