4680.0.55.001 - Information Paper: An Experimental Ecosystem Account for the Great Barrier Reef Region, 2015 Quality Declaration 
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SECTION 1 SEASCAPE


SEASCAPE

This section presents a marine ecosystem account for the GBR Region. It includes measures that provide a broad indication of the condition of the marine area, and is drawn from the detailed and extensive data presented in the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report series, published every five years by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Assessments of more marine ecosystem assets will be able to be added with time, resources and continued assessment of datasets feeding into the Outlook Report.

The scope of the marine section of the ecosystems account is the marine area within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Note that an assessment of condition and extent of the islands within this area is not included.

The marine account used ABS experience in developing land accounts to build a remotely sensed asset account, describing the extent of each class of marine ecosystem and corresponding changes in extent over time, as well as measures of use, condition and where possible, value of those assets. However, annual consistent time series of remotely sensed data on marine ecosystems for the region were not available. This is in contrast to the well-established remotely sensed datasets on land cover and condition as reported in the Landscape section of this publication. Consequently, an asset account was not able to be constructed and this release focuses on condition measures and use.

While an asset account is not presented for the marine area, the following areas were reported by GBRMPA in 2013 for the extent of marine assets within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park:

  • Mangroves 2,070km2
  • Seagrass meadows - shallow (<15m from surface) 5,700km2, - deep (>15m from surface) 40,000km2
  • Coral reefs - 26,000km2
  • Lagoon floor 210,000km2
  • Shoals 278km2


MARINE USE

A Marine Account, analogous to the land use accounts, was developed using zoning data from the GBRMPA. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, which came into effect on 1 July 2004, was enacted to protect the biodiversity within the park better. The plan helps 'to ensure that a diverse range of other benefits and values of the Marine Park, including recreational, cultural, educational and scientific values are protected' (Zoning, Permits and Plans, GBRMPA).

Table 1.1 below sets out the area of each zone type before and after 1 July 2004 while Figure 1.1 displays the current zoning in a map. The 2004 re-zoning resulted in a large decline in the amount of area classified as 'General Use', with large increases in the area of 'Habitat Protection' and 'Marine National Park'.

TABLE 1.1: MARINE ZONING (USE) ACCOUNT, GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK, at 01 July 2004

Opening Area
Net Change in Area
Closing Area
pre 2004 Rezoning
post 2004 Rezoning
Zone Type
sq km
sq km
sq km

Preservation Zone
344
344
688
Marine National Park
15 842
98 843
114 685
Scientific Research
34
310
344
Buffer
344
9 643
9 988
Conservation Park
2 066
3 100
5 166
Habitat Protection
52 349
44 771
97 120
General Use
268 288
-157 012
111 276
Total GBR Marine Park
339 268
0
339 268

sq km - square kilometres
Source: Table 6.4 Changes in Zone Area following 2004 Rezoning, GBRMPA, 2009, p.126.

FIGURE 1.1: MAP OF GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK ZONING, 2004 to Present

FIGURE 1.1: MAP OF GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK ZONING, 2004 to Present



Coral

The presence of coral in the Great Barrier Reef Region is central to the areas identification as a World Heritage Area. It is critical to fish populations, to the provision of recreation opportunities (such as snorkelling), and to other ecosystem services.

TABLE 1.2: INSHORE CORAL CONDITION, BY SELECTED NRM REGIONS, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2007-08 to 2011-12, Index (2007-08 = 100)

NRM Region
2007-08
2008-09
2009-10
2010-11
2011-12
2012-13

Burdekin
100
110
95
88
70
78
Fitzroy
100
89
100
82
42
37
Mackay Whitsunday
100
107
87
84
82
95
Wet Tropics
100
108
109
77
68
70
Total GBR Region
100
102
96
81
67
73

Source: Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, Report Card series, Commonwealth and Queensland governments (various issues)


The Fitzroy NRM Region recorded the biggest overall drop in coral condition over the period 2007-08 to 2012-13, with condition decreasing by 64 per cent. No regions recorded an increase in the overall condition of coral, and the GBR Region decreased by 28 per cent over the reference period.

Hard coral cover is a component of inshore coral condition and data on this characteristic is also available for offshore areas. Tables 1.3 and 1.4 below present hard coral cover as a measure of condition for coral across the marine area. Note that the data below is based on a sample of reefs, and not the total number in each region.

TABLE 1.3: NUMBER OF REEFS SAMPLED AND HARD CORAL COVER (AVERAGE PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL REEF AREA), BY NRM REGION (INCLUDING OFFSHORE), GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2003 to 2013 (Calendar Years)

2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
NRM RegionIndicator

Burdekinaverage %
20.8
19.6
20.9
13.9
21.8
11.9
22.1
14.2
16.0
7.3
19.3
no. reefs
9
9
15
18
14
16
14
16
15
16
14
Burnett Maryaverage %
75.4
73.6
66.1
74.1
70.4
64.8
15.6
10.5
1.6
9.4
3.8
no. reefs
2
2
2
4
2
4
2
4
2
4
2
Cape Yorkaverage %
37.0
37.8
33.1
na
29.4
na
32.2
na
36.3
na
30.3
no. reefs
8
8
8
0
8
0
8
0
8
0
8
Fitzroyaverage %
35.3
33.8
38.9
31.4
34.4
31.2
32.1
22.4
19.2
20.8
21.9
no. reefs
9
9
15
31
12
30
13
30
14
30
13
Mackay Whitsundayaverage %
29.5
31.3
34.0
35.4
37.0
35.9
32.0
28.8
26.8
29.2
29.8
no. reefs
9
9
16
10
14
8
14
8
14
8
14
Wet Tropicsaverage %
17.8
18.4
26.9
24.0
26.1
26.7
30.9
32.2
24.7
20.7
22.8
no. reefs
10
10
26
28
20
22
19
22
21
22
19
Total GBR Regionaverage %
29.7
29.7
31.0
28.0
30.5
28.2
29.3
23.5
22.9
18.3
23.6
no. reefs
47
47
82
91
70
80
70
80
74
80
70

na - not available
Source: Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP), Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)


The Burnett Mary NRM Region reported the largest decline (95 per cent) in hard coral cover between 2003 and 2013. It is also the least sampled area, with sampling in some years reduced to two reefs. 'Lady Musgrave' and 'One Tree' are the two reefs that contributed to this area's scores in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The scores were at high levels in 2003, but the low cover levels seen in the later years of the time series are similar to those recorded by these reefs in the early 1990s. This is an example where users should be aware of the limitations of using a reference condition based on the beginning of time series, rather than that of the original or natural state.

Of the six NRM Marine Regions, the Mackay Whitsunday NRM Region and Wet Tropics NRM Regions are the only areas to record an increase in hard coral cover, with increases of 1 and 28 per cent respectively. The total marine area recorded an average decrease in hard coral cover of 20 per cent between 2003 to 2013.

TABLE 1.4: NUMBER OF REEFS SAMPLED AND HARD CORAL COVER (AVERAGE PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL REEF AREA), BY GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AUTHORITY MANAGEMENT (GBRMPA), Sector, 2003 to 2013 (Calendar Years)

2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
GBRMPA Management SectorIndicator

Northern Inshoreaverage %
26
27
29
33
32
38
36
42
35
30
28
no. reefs
7
7
11
6
9
4
9
4
9
4
9
Northern Offshoreaverage %
38
38
31
na
26
na
30
na
35
na
29
no. reefs
6
6
6
0
6
0
6
0
6
0
6
Southern Inshoreaverage %
21
22
30
26
30
28
31
29
23
22
24
no. reefs
11
11
41
41
33
33
32
33
36
33
32
Southern Offshoreaverage %
32
32
32
29
32
28
25
18
16
15
20
no. reefs
23
23
23
43
22
43
23
43
23
43
23
Total GBR Regionaverage %
30
30
31
28
31
28
29
24
23
18
24
no. reefs
47
47
82
91
70
80
70
80
74
80
70

na - not available
Source: Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP), Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)


Table 1.4 shows that the inshore sectors recorded increases in hard coral cover as a percentage of total reef area between 2003 and 2013. The Northern Inshore sector increased by 5 per cent between 2003 and 2013, and the Southern Inshore sector by 15 per cent. These changes were more than offset by decreases in hard coral cover in the offshore sectors in the same period. The Northern Offshore sector decreased by 23 per cent between 2003 and 2013, and the Southern Offshore sector by 40 per cent.

The offshore sectors recorded significant falls in percentage cover in recent years. The Northern Offshore sector decreased by 17.1 per cent between 2011 and 2013, and the Southern Offshore sector by 25 per cent between 2009 and 2010. These changes can be attributed in large part to the Category 5 cyclones that impacted those management sectors. Cyclone Hamish progressed along the offshore portion of the marine area for five days in March 2009, while Cyclone Yasi crossed the northern area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in February 2011.

These two cyclones are not the only two to inflict damage on the GBR Region. It has been estimated that 'between 1995 and 2009, approximately 34 per cent of all coral mortality recorded in the Great Barrier Reef Long Term Monitoring Program has been caused by storm damage' (Managing the Reef, GBRMPA).


WATER QUALITY

Water, both fresh and sea water, links inland and offshore activities and ecosystems. A measurement of water quality for both inland and marine areas are an important part of this account. See River Loads in the Landscape Section for a discussion of inland areas.

Reef Plan indicators of water quality (sourced from the Report Card series) have been used due to their close description of the assets ability to contribute to the health and ongoing function of the marine ecosystem. For example, suspended solids impact on the amount of sunlight reaching seagrasses, and chlorophyll is a measure of eutrophication. Note that the methods used to derive Water Quality indicators changed for the 2011-12 reporting year and are not presented in this time series(footnote 1).

TABLE 1.5: WATER QUALITY SCORES, BY NRM MARINE REGION, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2005-06 to 2010-11, Index (2005-06 = 100)

2005-06
2006-07
2007-08
2008-09
2009-10
2010-11
NRM Marine Region

Burdekin
100
106
121
121
146
121
Burnett Mary
100
99
84
95
72
57
Cape York
100
74
121
87
128
90
Fitzroy
100
98
91
100
100
59
Mackay Whitsunday
100
86
88
98
116
54
Wet Tropics
100
78
136
106
133
108
Total GBR Region
100
95
100
102
115
73

Source: Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, Report Card series, Commonwealth and Queensland governments (various issues)


The Wet Tropics and Burdekin NRM Regions were the only NRM Regions with an increase in water quality from 2005-06 to 2010-11 with all other NRM Regions showing a drop in water quality, most notably between 2009-10 and 2010-11. The Mackay Whitsunday NRM Region fell more than 50 per cent from an index score of 116 in 2009-10 to 53 in 2010-11, while the Fitzroy NRM Region was relatively stable through the first five years of the reference period before falling 41 per cent in 2010-11 to a closing condition index of 59.


SEAGRASS

More than half of the seagrass species found in Australia are present in the marine area of the GBR Region. Seagrasses vary from small and short-lived to large and long-lived structures. They are not true grasses but are an ecological group that arose through convergent evolution. All except one of the fifteen seagrass species found in the area can survive totally submerged in salt water. Seagrasses provide habitat for diverse marine communities, are primary producers and storers of carbon and help to stabilise the sediments at the floor of the marine environment.
    TABLE 1.6: SEAGRASS CONDITION SCORES, BY NRM MARINE REGION, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2005-06 to 2012-13, Index (2005-06 = 100)

    2005-06
    2006-07
    2007-08
    2008-09
    2009-10
    2010-11
    2011-12
    2012-13
    NRM Marine Region

    Burdekin
    100
    92
    67
    67
    53
    22
    29
    62
    Burnett Mary
    100
    94
    69
    97
    60
    34
    50
    33
    Cape York
    100
    34
    65
    66
    111
    69
    34
    45
    Fitzroy
    100
    70
    61
    54
    69
    58
    42
    38
    Mackay Whitsunday
    100
    128
    77
    54
    62
    15
    21
    38
    Wet Tropics
    100
    145
    140
    175
    170
    115
    108
    115
    Total GBR Region
    100
    107
    82
    80
    77
    43
    44
    64

    Source: Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, Report Card series, Commonwealth and Queensland governments (various issues)


    A large decrease in seagrass condition followed the significant flooding event in Queensland at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011. Rivers such as the Fitzroy and Burnett reached heights not recorded for over fifty years. The weighted seagrass condition for the total marine area decreased by 34 percentage points (or 44 per cent) between 2009-10 and 2010-11. The Mackay Whitsunday NRM Region dropped 46 percentage points (or 75 per cent) in the same period, achieving a low index score of 15.

    The Wet Tropics NRM Region, while variable over the time period presented here, has continuously been above the condition score of 100 in the reporting period. It is the only NRM Marine Region to be in better condition in 2012-13 than in 2005-06.


    FISH

    The diversity of fish species in the marine area is recognised in the World Heritage listing of the GBR Region. There are 1,625 species in the area, of which 1,400 are coral reef species. The presence and abundance of selected fish is considered an ecosystem condition measure. Tables 1.7 and 1.8 below present fish abundance scores for NRM Marine Regions and Management Sectors in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

    Data in both tables were sourced from the Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP) produced by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). Data are collected across sites designed to monitor the impact of the 2004 re-zoning. The numbers of fish sighted in each sample area are averaged per reef and are referenced against a list of 'easy-to-identify' species.

    Data for the first year of the time series are indexed at 100. For context, Tables 1.7 and 1.8 also include the average number of fish recorded per region in the reference year.

    TABLE 1.7: FISH ABUNDANCE SCORES, BY NRM MARINE REGION, GREAT BARRIER REEF REGION, 2001 to 2013 (Calendar Years), Index (2001 = 100)


    2001
    2002
    2003
    2004
    2005
    2006
    2007
    2008
    2009
    2010
    2011
    2012
    2013
    NRM Marine Region

    Burdekin
    100
    112
    107
    119
    117
    134
    102
    132
    107
    136
    102
    139
    102
    Burnett Mary
    100
    105
    122
    112
    120
    140
    119
    130
    109
    126
    64
    122
    58
    Cape York
    100
    100
    100
    102
    103
    na
    104
    na
    107
    na
    101
    na
    106
    Fitzroy
    100
    102
    101
    103
    115
    107
    106
    105
    106
    107
    96
    104
    92
    Mackay Whitsunday
    100
    100
    105
    107
    104
    100
    109
    95
    113
    105
    106
    102
    111
    Wet Tropics
    100
    102
    104
    104
    103
    111
    103
    115
    103
    114
    101
    116
    103

    na - not available
    Source: Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP), Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)


    Table 1.7 above shows that the abundance of selected fish species has remained relatively stable across the majority of NRM Marine Regions. The exception is the Burnett Mary NRM Region, which saw a decrease of 42 per cent in the number of fish recorded between 2001 and 2013. The Mackay Whitsunday NRM Region recorded an increase of 11 percent in fish numbers over the same period, the largest increase among NRM Regions.

    TABLE 1.8: FISH ABUNDANCE SCORES, BY GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AUTHORITY (GBRMPA) MANAGEMENT SECTORS, 2001 to 2013 (Calendar Years), Index (2001 = 100)

    2001
    2002
    2003
    2004
    2005
    2006
    2007
    2008
    2009
    2010
    2011
    2012
    2013
    GBRMPA Management Sector

    Northern Inshore
    100
    102
    101
    104
    100
    110
    100
    110
    101
    110
    99
    115
    101
    Northern Offshore
    100
    101
    100
    103
    104
    na
    104
    na
    108
    na
    102
    na
    107
    Southern Inshore
    100
    114
    109
    118
    118
    146
    109
    151
    109
    150
    105
    149
    109
    Southern Offshore
    100
    101
    106
    106
    110
    109
    108
    106
    109
    108
    98
    108
    98

    na - not available
    Source: Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP), Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)


    Table 1.8 above shows the abundance of selected fish species has remained relatively stable across the majority of management sectors. Three sectors recorded an increase in fish numbers over the reference period with the largest being 9 per cent in the Southern Inshore sector. The only area to record a decrease was the Southern Offshore sector, which saw a fall of 2 per cent in the number of fish recorded between 2001 and 2013.

    1. Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, Report Card series, Commonwealth and Queensland governments. <back