Code Blue Emergency: Aussie Reefs and Oceans are in Crisis

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reefs create diversity

Extreme heat punishes marine life and reefs, raising the spectre of irreversible changes with profound consequences for all life on our planet, a new report has found.


Scientists Call a ‘Code Blue Emergency’

The Climate Council’s Code Blue: Oceans in Crisis report reveals the immense amount of climate-change-induced heat currently being absorbed by the world’s oceans is equivalent to boiling the Sydney Harbour every eight minutes.

In addition, the Climate Council ran a highly targeted survey of 30 leading ocean scientists across five continents. All (100%) were ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned about climate-driven changes to the world’s oceans. Half (53%) said these changes were outpacing scientific predictions.

Overwhelmingly, these scientists agreed that ‘rapidly phasing out fossil fuels’ is the single most important action governments could take to address ocean warming.

Report author and the Climate Council’s Research Director Dr Simon Bradshaw said: “The science can’t be any clearer: our oceans are in deep trouble.

“Today the ocean is absorbing excess heat energy that’s equivalent to five Hiroshima bomb explosions every second, or enough to boil Sydney Harbour every eight minutes.

“As our climate changes, driven by rampant burning of coal, oil and gas, our seas are transforming before our eyes. More frequent and severe marine heatwaves are pushing coral reefs to the brink, ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate, ocean currents are slowing and seas are rising. The climate crisis is also an ocean crisis.

“In hospital emergency rooms, a code blue is called when a very serious life-threatening event is underway. We are calling a code blue for our oceans today, because this threatens all the species that inhabit them, the people who depend on them, as well as all life on land.

“Over the past few decades as the climate has warmed, the oceans have done an incredible job of protecting us by absorbing CO2 and an immense amount of heat, but there’s a limit to what they can take and we are close to crossing dangerous tipping points. We must scale up the use of clean energy like solar and wind, backed by storage, as quickly as we can so the use of coal, oil and gas is phased out. Every step that cuts pollution will help secure our future.”

Ocean scientist Professor Gretta Pecl, Director for the Centre for Marine Socioecology at the University of Tasmania, author of the Australian ocean section of the latest IPCC report and report co-author added: “Make no mistake, ocean scientists around the world are growing increasingly concerned about rapid and intensifying changes to our oceans.

“While much of the worry for the brutal summer ahead is quite rightly about the impact on our iconic Great Barrier Reef, the scientific community is also extremely concerned about the Great Southern Reef. With forecasts of unprecedented and ‘off the charts’ marine heat this summer, these critical marine ecosystems face the risk of utter devastation.

“We’re observing the transformation of the oceans in real time, as marine species move to survive. In Australia, at least 200 marine species have shifted since 2003, with the vast majority headed south. As waters warm further south, many will have nowhere left to go.

“While climate change has already caused extensive change to our oceans – and we’ll continue to see devastating impacts for decades – stronger action by governments to reign in fossil fuels right now can limit future harms and ensure more species and ecosystems are given a fighting chance. Scientists agree: the single most important action we can take now is to leave fossil fuels in the polluting past – and it has to happen this decade.”

reefs create surf breaksPro-surfer Adrian ‘Ace’ Buchan, Surfing Australia Deputy Chairman, has joined the Climate Council’s call to declare a Code Blue emergency, adding: “Surfers have a deep and spiritual connection to the ocean and we are deeply concerned about the devastating impact the climate crisis is having on our big blue playground. Erosion is threatening our most iconic surfing spots. Our water is being polluted from flood runoff and dangerous jellyfish moving south. Loss of coral reefs and impacts on sandbars is not just altering where and how waves break, but is also having devastating impacts on marine life.

“This is all terrible news for the millions of ocean-loving Aussies – every one of whom should be concerned and take note. This is a call to action: we must work to draw attention to the ocean’s plight and push for decisive and rapid climate action now.”

Tishiko King, a proud Kulkalaig woman from Masig in Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Islands) marine scientist and co-author of the report said: “We know what is needed to protect our futures: leaving fossil fuels in the ground, having the resources to adapt to our changing climate and ocean, being able to access funds to address loss and damage.

“We have the opportunity to work together: First Nations, Pacific Island nations, non-Indigenous Australians. It starts by listening, and understanding what we all have in common. The ocean is what connects us all together.’’


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: climatecouncil.org.au Or follow us on social media: facebook.com/climatecouncil and twitter.com/climatecouncil


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