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Unwanted anniversary: 365th consecutive day of record-breaking ocean temperatures transforms Reef into ‘shadow state’

Climate Council 3 mins read




THE GREAT BARRIER REEF is in the midst of a fifth mass bleaching event in eight years. Today marks 365 straight days of record breaking global sea surface temperatures, igniting fears that climate change is pushing tropical coral reefs past a tipping point.


New analysis by the Climate Council - Underwater Bushfire: Vibrant Great Barrier Reef fading to a shadow of its former glory - highlights how climate pollution from the burning of coal, oil and gas projects is heating our oceans and cooking the Reef.


The Climate Council’s analysis also affirms that Australia’s national environment law is part of the problem and fails to protect precious places like the Great Barrier Reef from climate pollution. At least five fossil fuel projects have been approved under our outdated national environment law since the last mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef.


Climate Councillor, former IPCC author and biologist, Professor Lesley Hughes, said: “With five mass bleaching events in the last eight years, and the prospect that heat stress will continue to worsen in coming years, it appears likely that we have crossed a tipping point for the Great Barrier Reef and that we are seeing it transform to a new, ‘shadow state’.


“Crossing a tipping point will see the Reef undergo irreversible change, losing its vibrant life and threatening the complex ecosystems it supports. The Reef is a critical part of our marine environment, vital for biodiversity and Australia’s economic prosperity.


“The Reef needs at least a decade to recover from a severe bleaching event. The only way to stop cooking the Reef is to rapidly reduce climate pollution from coal, oil and gas.”


Dr Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor of Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, said: “Recent warming of the water around Heron Island has triggered mass coral bleaching and sick corals are as far as the eye can see. It is truly horrifying.


“The impact of climate pollution is driving our beloved Reef to the brink, and unless we act faster many other natural and human systems will tumble. The implications of these changes are unimaginable.


“It is our time for us to urge all governments to take emergency action at a scale which matches that of the growing threats to life on Earth.”


Climate Council Research Director, Dr Simon Bradshaw, said: “Another mass bleaching event will have major consequences to the health of our Reef, and the thousands of Queenslanders whose livelihoods rely upon it. What’s happening on the Reef right now could be described as an underwater bushfire. These abrupt changes underway signal even greater dangers and the possibility of crossing points of no return in our climate system.


“Every new coal and gas project hurts the Reef and surrounding coastal communities, but governments keep approving these dangerous polluting projects.


“We need to show real commitment to protecting our precious Reef and all the life that depends on it, starting with the urgent phase out of coal, oil and gas. Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek need to do their jobs by protecting nature from climate change. The Australian Government has an opportunity right now to better protect the Great Barrier Reef by fixing our national environment law so that it properly tackles climate pollution.”



About us:

The Climate Council is Australia’s leading community-funded climate change communications organisation. It was founded through community donations in 2013, immediately after the then-Abbott Government dismantled the Climate Commission. We provide authoritative, expert and evidence-based advice on climate change to journalists, policymakers, and the wider Australian community. For further information, go to: Or follow us on social media: and

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