Australia’s most popular natural tourist spots are under threat from climate change

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Things are looking pretty grim for Australian tourism pulls like the Great Barrier Reef, according to a new report.
Things are looking pretty grim for Australian tourism pulls like the Great Barrier Reef, according to a new report.

Image: REINHARD DIRSCHER/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Want to visit a pristine Australian beach, or discover the delights of the Great Barrier Reef? You’d better be quick.

Like many of the world’s natural wonders, Australia’s five most popular natural tourist pulls are under serious threat thanks to climate change, with specific risks detailed in a new report.

Nature tourism dominates the Australian market for both local and international travellers. But according to Icons at Risk: Climate Change Threatening Australian Tourism, released by independent climate organisation Climate Council on Thursday, Australia’s beaches, wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef, and national parks could soon be hit by extreme heatwaves and increased temperatures, coastal flooding, rising sea levels, and severe coral bleaching.

Image: climate council/screenshot

Australia’s iconic beaches are marked as the country’s top tourist pull, and are under threat from rising sea levels. The cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Cairns, Darwin, Fremantle and Adelaide are projected to have a least a 100-fold increase in the frequency of coastal flooding events. 

Damaged beaches could cause tourists to avoid areas such as Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and Victoria’s Surf Coast. A survey of tourists found that 17 to 23 percent of them would switch destinations based on beach conditions, leading to an estimated A$20-56 million loss per year for the latter two areas alone.

Damage caused by a severe storm at Collaroy on Sydney's northern beaches on June 6, 2016.

Damage caused by a severe storm at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches on June 6, 2016.

Image: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

Oh, and climate change may be expanding the distribution of deadly jellyfish along Queensland’s coast, according to the Climate Council. Tourists will inevitably want to avoid those beaches, hey?

Further inland, the Red Centre, an outback area of Central Australia centred on the town of Alice Springs and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, will see intense temperature increases — expect more than 100 days above 35ºC (95ºF) annually by 2030. Similar extreme temperature increases are also set to impact the country’s Top End, including the stunning Kakadu National Park.

Uluru is one of Australia's most iconic natural tourist destinations.

Uluru is one of Australia’s most iconic natural tourist destinations.

Image: Masci Giuseppe/AGF/UIG via Getty Images

Though not necessarily always connected to its international beachy reputation, Australia’s also home to a handful of beautiful ski fields. However, the report suggests that Australian ski resorts have reported declines of maximum snow depth and season length over the last 25 years — hence an increase in artificial snow-making.

Thredbo has 480 hectares of skiing terrain including Australia's highest lift point at 2037 metres.

Thredbo has 480 hectares of skiing terrain including Australia’s highest lift point at 2037 metres.

Image: Stuart Hannagan/Getty Images

The report also notes the impact of rising temperatures on event-based sports tourism, which we’ve recently seen in action at the Australian Open. A two-day heatwave during the January event peaked at 40.2ºC (104ºF), causing players like Novak Djokovic and Gaël Monfils to complain.

Here, in a nutshell, are Australia’s most threatened natural tourist destinations, according to the report.

Climate change is both a serious threat to Australia’s natural environment and the country’s economy. As a multi-billion dollar industry, tourism is Australia’s second most valuable export earner (A$43.6 billion) after iron ore, and accounts for 4.9 percent of the workforce.

Tourism is growing in Australia, with arrivals projected to increase 3.3 percent per year to 2030. The Australian government has implemented a national strategy, dubbed Tourism 2020, which aims to boost the tourism market and achieve more than $115 billion in overnight spend by 2020.

But with climate change predicted to severely impact the biggest tourist pulls in the country, perhaps the country’s government would be wiser to focus on actually tackling climate change before spending on shiny tourism campaigns for threatened destinations. 

You can’t market a beach that no longer exists.

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