News out this week that research has found the Great Barrier Reef has lost much of its coral cover in the past few decades generated the now routine commitment from federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to do better. The reality is that the reef's future looks grim.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science found a major decline in coral cover from 1985 to 2012, with tropical cyclones accounting for 48% of the loss, predation by crown-of-thorns starfish 42%, and bleaching due to climate change 10%.