Reef ecosystems may benefit from global warming

The idea that the Great Barrier Reef may be destroyed by global warming is not new, but it is a myth. In fact, the expected rise in sea level associated with global warming may actually benefit coral reefs, says Jennifer Marohasy, senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.


  • Scientific studies show that over the past 100 years, during a period of modest global warming, there has been a statistically significant increase in growth rates of coral species on the Great Barrier Reef.

  • There have also been periods of coral bleaching, but no conclusive evidence to suggest that either the frequency or severity has increased.

  • Many of the species found on the Great Barrier Reef can also be found in regions with much warmer water, for example around Papua New Guinea.

  • Corals predate dinosaurs and over the past couple of hundred million years have shown themselves to be remarkably resistant to climate change, surviving both hotter and colder periods.

    While, global warming may be the big environmental issue of our times – and the United Nations may feel compelled to include the world's main environmental symbols in its climate models and assessments – there are higher priorities for the world's coral reefs, says Marohasy:

  • In many parts of the world, reefs are under increasing pressure from blast fishing, illegal capture of live fish for the restaurant trade in places such as Hong Kong, coral mining, industrial pollution, mine waste and land reclamation.

  • In Papua New Guinea, high sediment loads from uncontrolled forestry have also affected coral reefs.

    Overall, there clearly are global threats to coral reefs, but reef ecosystems have historically been resilient to climate change, and global warming may bring more opportunities than threats, says Marohasy.

    Source: Jennifer Marohasy, Jennifer Marohasy: Reef may benefit from global warming, The Australian, January 31, 2007.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 06 February 2007
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