Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef could result in one million fewer visitors and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue each year, according to a report by a Canberra-based think tank.
"The massive drop in visitors would result in the loss of one billion dollars in income, and 10,000 tourism jobs," the Australia Institute said in a report.
While many potential visitors may seek other Australian attractions, some "175,000 potential visitors may not come to Australia at all," the report said.
More than 4400 people were surveyed for the report in the United States, Britain, China and Australia, said Tom Burmester, a spokesman for the Institute.
"China, UK and US are the top three countries, making up two in five tourists visiting Australia," he said Tuesday.
A mass bleaching, blamed on global warming and acidification of the ocean, has killed 35 per cent of the corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, according to scientists.
The impact is still unfolding and it will take decades to regain the largest and oldest corals that have died, researchers from the Australian ARC Centre of Excellence said last month.
Earlier, Guardian Australia reported that Australia pushed to have a whole chapter on the Great Barrier Reef removed from a UN report on climate change, fearing it would impact tourism.
"The Great Barrier Reef is a major tourist attraction. If it's lost to coral bleaching, then there is a big risk of losing the tourists, along with income and jobs," Burmester told DPA.
Coral bleaching is caused by a die-off of the living organisms, or algae, inside the coral. It can be triggered by small changes in environmental conditions, like a rise in sea temperature.
It is the loss of these colourful algae that causes the corals to turn white and "bleach".
But while parts of the northern and central reef are in big trouble, there's thankfully a whole world of untouched, unbleached, amazing coral still to see if you head further south.
Potential visitors may need to be reminded of that.
TOP PLACES TO SNORKEL OR DIVE ON THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
- easy access to the outer Great Barrier Reef by boat or helicopter, Hamilton Island also allows tourists to explore the inner reef eco-systems where soft coral is abundant.
BAIT REEF - just off the coast of Hamilton Island, this reef is filled with hundreds of fish, hard coral, sea grass and often turtles.
HARDY REEF - home to the famous Great Barrier Reef heart, this reef has superb visibility and an abundance of marine life.
LADY ELLIOT ISLAND - one of the Southern Islands in the Great Barrier Reef, this island is a coral quay and limits the amount of tourists who can see the reef here.
HERON ISLAND - a coral quay just off the coast of Gladstone, this reef is in great condition and the island is also home to a marine research station.