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Great Barrier Reef Outlook Downgraded To 'Very Poor'

The long-term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from "poor" to "very poor" for the first time.

Urgent action on a local, national and global level is needed to ensure the Reef's long-term health, with escalating climate change remaining the most significant threat to the World Heritage Area.

The findings come from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's 2019 Outlook Report, the third in a series of comprehensive reports on the Reef's health and management.

It described the Reef as at a "crossroads" in 2009, between having a positive and well-managed future, and a less certain one.

In 2014, its outlook was downgraded to "poor", with the Reef being labelled as an "icon under pressure" Now, it's been further downgraded.

An undated photo shows a damaged reef. Photo: Getty.

"Australia is now caring for a changed and less resilient Reef," the report said.

"Global action on climate change is critical."

The report notes habitat loss, degradation and alteration in a number of areas; back-to-back years of coral bleaching; battering from cyclones; declining populations in some reef fish, marine turtles and seabirds; poor water quality; altered ocean currents and artificial light as just some of the challenges facing the Reef.

READ MORE: Tourists Visiting The Great Barrier Reef Left Feeling Sad And Angry

“The Great Barrier Reef is widely recognised as one of the best-managed marine protected areas in the world and its World Heritage values remain whole and intact. However, it is challenged by multiple and broad-scale pressures,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority CEO Josh Thomas said.

A supplied image of bleaching damage on the Great barrier Reef. Photo: AAP.

“Anyone following the state of the Great Barrier Reef over the last 10 years is well aware of the pressures and challenges facing the ecosystem. This report brings together scientific information to provide a comprehensive overview of the Reef’s health.

“While the Reef is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, its future is one we can change — and are committed to changing. Local, national and global action on the greatest threats facing the Reef is needed now."

READ MORE: The Great Barren Reef: No More Nemo?

It comes after several studies have painted a frightening picture of the Reef's long-term viability. A field study published findings in June of widespread contamination of microplastics in the Reef, while a study in April published in Nature found for the first time that parts of the Reef were simply unable to recover from back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Coral damage at Davies Reef after Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Photo: AAP.

However, this new report included a few positives: it noted the healthy and/or recovering populations of both humpback whales and southern green turtles, and the decline in risk from disposal of dredge material -- the only risk to decline in the past five years.

About 60 percent of the 31 ecosystem processes assessed remain in "good" to "very good" condition, but the overall condition of habitats is "poor".

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chief Scientist Dr David Wachenfeld said the greatest possible effort to create "recovery windows" for the Reef must be taken.

READ MORE: Great Barrier Reef Contaminated With Microplastics From Clothing And Furniture: Study

“Gradual sea temperature increase and extremes, such as marine heat waves, are the most immediate threats to the Reef as a whole and pose the highest risk. Global action on climate change is critical,” he said.

“Mitigating threats like climate change and poor water quality, coupled with resilience-based management, are essential to boosting Reef health so it can recover from major disturbances.”

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au