SBS World News Radio: The regional body responsible for promoting tourism in Far North Queensland says coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef could severely affect the local tourism industry.
The regional body responsible for promoting tourism in Far North Queensland says coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef could severely affect the local tourism industry.
Significant coral bleaching events have degraded the reef over the past two decades, and reef authorities say large parts of the reef north of Cairns have been bleached this summer.
Frequent coral bleaching could pose a threat to the tropical North Queensland region, which heavily relies on the reef for tourism, jobs and commercial fishing.
Scientists at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warn of frequent coral bleaching and the destruction of some coral if global greenhouse gas emissions are not addressed.
They say the hot summer conditions and rising global sea temperatures will do the damage.
But a degrading reef could also spell disaster for tropical North Queensland.
A report commissioned by the Department of the Environment suggests the Great Barrier Reef contributes $5.7 billion in tourism and employment to the Australian economy.
It says nearly two million people visit the reef each year.
The director for reef recovery at the Marine Park Authority, David Wachenfeld, says the effects of coral bleaching go far beyond environmental damage.
"The Great Barrier Reef is an international environmental icon, which I think is recognised in its world heritage status, but, of course, it is also an economic powerhouse. The reef generates over $5 billion per year for the Australian economy, and it supports almost 70,000 jobs, mostly in the tourism industry. So when we talk about climate change and bleaching threatening the reef, we're not just talking about environmental damage, we're also talking about social and economic damage."
Deloitte Access Economics, which compiled the report, says Cairns and the Whitsundays rely heavily on tourism and 87 per cent of visitors to the areas visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Alex de Waal says, without the reef, the region would not be a tourism destination.
"It certainly impacts the tourism industry. And this region here, tropical North Queensland, really rests on the basis of it being the world's best destination to engage with nature. And so, without nature, we don't really have a tourism destination. So we take, obviously, impacts on the Great Barrier Reef very, very seriously, and the industry is very focused on minimising impacts and is, in fact, doing a great deal to support the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef."
The tourism industry follows strict guidelines and policies set out by the Marine Park authority, which includes off-reef mooring to minimise visitors' impact on the reef.
But in some cases, visitor activity can help monitor coral bleaching and its severity.
Mr de Waal says visitors are vital to maintaining the reef.
"(The) tourism industry and the visitors who actually go out to enjoy the reef are greatly supportive of being observing, if you like, of the reef's conditions and ensuring that any impacts on the reef are addressed as quickly as possible. So, in the example of crown of thorns (starfish), of course, if we had no visitors out there seeing these impacts, if you like, we might not be able to address them as quickly as we are. So, certainly, having tourism operations on the reef provide us with that ongoing monitoring mechanism that's a vital part of looking after the reef."
Deloitte Access Economics says the Great Barrier Reef also provides around $193 milllion in commercial fishing revenue.
And it says recreational fishing results in the direct employment of nearly 2,000 people.
Australian Institute of Marine Sciences researcher Dr Neal Cantin says the reef is a 2,300-kilometre-long, storm and wave barrier protecting people from Bundaberg to Cape York.
He says all Australians can profit from that.
"The Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs for Australia provide coastal protection from storm and wave damage. And they also provide recreational and commercial fishing profits and benefits to Australia and the globe. So, threats from climate change and damage to the system will have significant impact on society's desires and interests into the future."