Threats to the Great Barrier Reef | wwf

Threats to the Great Barrier Reef

There are growing threats to the Great Barrier Reef, with the most serious being climate change, catchment pollution, coastal development, and fishing. WWF is working hard to impress upon our governments the need for urgent action to address climate change globally. To help boost the Reef’s resilience to climate change we are also urging action on the local impacts of coastal development, such as ports, and polluted run-off from agriculture.

Climate change

Climate change is the biggest threat to the reef’s future. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Outlook Report for the Great Barrier Reef in 2014 stated: “Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It is already affecting the reef and is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the decades to come.”


Sediment, nutrient and pesticide pollution from catchment run-off is having a major impact on the health and resilience of the reef ecosystem.

The amount of sediment flowing into the marine park has quadrupled over the past 150 years. This increase can largely be attributed to grazing and cropping expansion in the catchment, which has also resulted in the loss of native vegetation and wetlands.

Nutrient loads have also increased, encouraging algal blooms, which, in turn, provide food for larvae of the devastating crown-of-thorns starfish. Since 1985 coral cover has declined by half along the Great Barrier Reef. Pollution driven crown-of-thorns starfish are responsible for over 40% of this loss.

The actions by farmers to implement more productive pollution cutting practices are commendable but they need much greater assistance, with billions not millions needed to get the scale of pollution cuts required.

Outdated fishing practice

Not only is the reef subject to high levels of fishing pressure. Fishing practices, such as trawling for prawns, are permitted in over one-third of the marine park, resulting in untargeted fish capture (bycatch), and damage to  the seafloor and its resident plants and animals.


The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from the most widespread, rapid and damaging set of industrial developments in Queensland’s history. The Queensland Government is fast-tracking dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seabed and rock, and encouraging increased shipping through the narrow straits between reefs. The Australian Government is considering approval of these developments, including the world’s biggest coal port at Abbot Point, 50 km from the Whitsunday Islands.

Join WWF’s Fight for the Reef campaign and learn how you can help the Reef here.