Scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) are supporting a major initiative to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

As the world’s largest coral reef system, the Reef is under severe threat with large areas damaged in recent decades due to pollution and climate change.

Rising water temperatures, worsening water quality from sediment runoff and pollution, as well as increased severity of cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, are just some of the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef and the animals that depend on it.

Better understanding and prediction of the amount and quality of water discharging from rivers along the 2,300km reef coastline is crucial to guide action to protect the Reef. This is particularly challenging since many of the rivers do not have flow monitoring stations near their outlets to the sea.

UKCEH is supporting Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to address this knowledge gap through the eReefs project. UKCEH’s Grid-to-Grid (G2G) hydrological model is being used to combine rainfall and river flow observations to provide estimates of water volumes discharging into the Reef environment. 

These data will be integrated with modelling by partner scientists - of the nutrients entering rivers from agricultural and land management activities - in order to estimate impacts on the water quality and ecological responses in the Reef environment.

Dr Steven Cole, the hydrological modeller leading UKCEH’s contribution to the eReefs project, says: “Much of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem – supporting thousands of marine species – is under threat. World-class scientific innovation by UKCEH and its research partners is now helping deliver integrated solutions to protect one of our planet’s most beautiful and diverse natural wonders.”

UKCEH modelling data will form a key source of information for the annual Report Card that monitors the progress towards water quality improvement targets set by the Australian Government’s long-term sustainability plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government has pledged a $1.2 billion AUD protection package over nine years, which includes investment in modelling, monitoring and reporting of water quality. The package will support land managers and others in reducing pollution, help restore the Reef and make it more resilient to climate change.