BLEACHING of the Great Barrier Reef will cost Australia almost $38 billion if climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions continues unchecked, an analysis has found.
A report commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a business-backed body investing in science, estimates half the tourists drawn to see reef coral will stay away if projections of permanent bleaching prove correct.
Foundation chairman John Schubert, the outgoing chairman of the Commonwealth Bank, said the report was a wake-up call about the economic damage that would be triggered by the loss of one of Australia's great natural assets.
The analysis by Oxford Economics assessed not only the value of the reef in tourism and fishing, but the indirect value of having a natural barrier protecting the coastline. A measure of the value people place on the reef's survival was also included.
It found coral bleaching would result in the value of the reef tumbling by 73 per cent, from $51.4 billion to $13.7 billion. The loss in the Cairns region would be more acute: 90 per cent of an estimated value of $17.9 billion.
''We are at a crossroads,'' Dr Schubert said. ''We owe it to the communities … to all Australians and the global community to do all we can to secure the reef's future.''