SYDNEY • Severe coral bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef could cost it more than a million visitors a year and huge sums in lost tourism revenue, according to a new report.
It comes one week after the Australian government made an election campaign pledge of A$1 billion (S$1 billion) to finance projects in the region to help save the reef by improving water quality and reducing emissions.
The World Heritage-listed reef, which teems with marine life, experienced an unprecedented bleaching earlier this year that saw much of it whiten and almost a quarter of corals die.
A discussion paper from the independent think-tank The Australia Institute said A$1 billion of potential revenue could be lost if a million visitors a year do not travel to the region. Some 10,000 tourism jobs were also at risk, it added.
"Continued bleaching could not only impact the reef's status as Australia's premier international tourist destination, but also impact Australia's identity as an international tourist destination," it said.
The report said about 3.5 million tourists, mostly Australians, visited areas along the reef last year.
The institute polled thousands of Australians and other people from major tourism markets Britain, China and the US. More than a third of Australians said they were more likely to visit another part of the country if the bleaching continued.
More than half of the Chinese respondents and about a third of American and British participants said they were more likely to visit somewhere other than Australia if the reef's deterioration persisted.
The 2,300km-long reef - the world's biggest coral ecosystem - is suffering from its worst bleaching in recorded history due to warming sea temperatures. The reef is also under pressure from farming run-off, development and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. The report concluded that two of Queensland's industries - tourism and coal mining - were directly at odds with each other.
"Without serious action on climate change and real resources allocated to the reef's health, the tourism industry seems certain to lose its most precious asset," it said.