Coverage of issues by news media is known to impact on both public perceptions and policy development aimed at addressing the featured issues. We examine the potential impact of news media coverage regarding the health and potential future of the World heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is under multiple pressures, both natural and anthropogenic. We draw on the extant literature regarding the impact of news media coverage of other complex issues, linking to relevant, albeit limited theoretical concepts that have been applied to previous media studies. We find that media coverage is predominately sensationalized and negative, with the potential to reinforce perceptions that mitigation attempts will be ineffective and thus likely to inhibit future policy development. We discuss the need for a review of existing science communication models and strategies to reduce the knowledge-practice gap between scientists and policy makers, together with proactive strategies to counter negative news coverage.