Australia Leading Research Study

Home / Archives / Australia Leading Research Study

Research Study:  Various studies on the Great Barrier Reef produced by Australia’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP) 2009-2014

The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic symbol of Australia and has been critical is garnering public support for environmental protections in Australia. One of the Wonders of the Natural World, the Great Barrier Reef encourages tourism as well as providing valuable environmental services to the Australian Continent and surrounding areas.

However the Reef is undergoing a massive bleaching event that could threaten its function, beauty, and even existence. The full extent of the Reef’s environmental benefits are not known, but damage to the oceans could occur at an even faster rate if bleaching of the Reef continues. The bleaching event is most likely brought on by changes in the ocean including warmer temperatures, brought on by climate change.

The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) has research projects focused on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which has been used in development of the Australian government’s Long Term Sustainability Plan for the Great Barrier Reef. The Sustainability Plan was put forth by the Department of the Environment to address concerns and outline a plan for protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

From the Department of the Environment’s website:
“The Australian Government recognises the vital role research plays in delivering effective environmental management, policies and programs.

The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) will provide around $20 million each year for environmental research to improve our capacity to understand, manage and conserve Australia’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems through the generation of world-class research, and its delivery to Australian environmental decision-makers and other stakeholders.”

The research from the NERP is considered “applied public good” research that goes towards the protection and enhancement of the natural world for Australian citizens and posterity.  A 2014 report that was put out on the Outlook of the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding ecosystem graded the health of the system to be “poor” and deteriorating rather than improving. A previous Outlook Report in 2009 had similar findings stating “The dominant pattern in the ecosystem health trends is the absence of any components that are considered to be improving.”

Additional finding from NERP research include:
• green zones (marine reserves) within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park can increase populations of targeted fish species, improve coral health and protect biodiversity, although they cannot prevent reef degradation from such larger-scale disturbances as cyclones, floods, coral-bleaching events, declining water quality and increasing sedimentation.
• the increase in frequency of outbreaks of the deadly crown-of-thorns starfish is linked to the impacts of degraded water quality.
• data about the human use and values of the reef contribute to better informed decisions about the reef as a complex socio-ecological system subject to competing demands.

Despite a recent UN speech by Australian PM Malcolm Turnbell and ratification of the Paris Climate agreement by major GHG emitting countries like China and the US, Australia has yet to ratify the agreement. Political divisiveness and limited political will for action on environmental issues have slowed the progress toward sustainable change in Australia. But the plan set forth to address the Great Barrier Reef is an example of the government’s ability to organize and take action under the right circumstances.

An ecological landmark as significant to Australia as the Great Barrier Reef can be crucial in shifting public attention and policy focus towards protecting the Reef, and hopefully addressing some of the root causes of its declining health.

Learn More about the Great Barrier Reef, The Long Term Sustainability Plan, and the National Environmental Research Program:


Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.