Australians have a special connection to the ocean. More than 85 percent of all Australians live within 50km of the coast. Australia’s First Nations people and Torres Strait Islanders have had a cultural affinity with the ocean for millennia. The ocean remains very important for the Australian lifestyle and national identity. In terms of economic value, Australia’s marine industry contributes more than $80 billion every year to the Australian economy – more than sectors like agriculture ($58.9 billion) or coal mining ($69.7billion).
Yet the Great Barrier Reef and many of Australia’s unique and treasured marine ecosystems are in very serious trouble. The Liberal-National Government has consistently ignored warnings that protecting the Great Barrier Reef requires stronger action on climate change; it has censored key reports; and the government has lobbied against the World Heritage Committee listing the Reef as ‘in danger’. The decision whether or not to place the Great Barrier Reef on the ‘in danger’ list will be revisited by the World Heritage Committee in June 2022. A UNESCO delegation has been sent to assess the current state of the Reef and will visit in late March.
This briefing considers the ways that ocean warming is affecting Australia’s marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. More frequent and severe marine heatwaves have already had devastating impacts on Australia’s unique ecosystems, including mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and the Ningaloo Reef, a loss of seagrass meadows in Western Australia’s Shark Bay, widespread death of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and a rapid decline of giant kelp forests.
Much more ambitious action to reduce emissions this decade is key to the survival of Australia’s precious marine ecosystems. A net zero target by 2050 – setting aside the fact that the Liberal-National Government does not have a credible plan to achieve it – will not be enough. To do our share Australia should aim to cut its emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030.
At a minimum, we should be matching our allies by committing to at least halving our emissions by 2030. Ultimately, with the window for action closing fast, doing what it takes to protect our ocean wonders is also key to avoiding catastrophic global warming.