Great Barrier Reef – dead, dying or in capable hands?

Classic reef shot with yellow back pullers at tennements diving heron island banner

So. Why have Federal and Queensland State Environment Ministers flown to Europe?

Let’s start at the beginning of this story…

Back in 1981, the United Nations World Heritage Committee listed the Reef for its outstanding natural beauty and eco-diversity and the Federal Government established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to manage it.

It’s important to note that while the GBRMPA has world class management capabilities, it has no legislative power to fight external abuses or even lobby against the external influences that pose the biggest threat to its survival.

Manta soars overhead at Wreck diving Lady Elliot Island. Scuba holiday travel planning for Lady Elliot Island - where, who and how

When did we notice all was not well?

In 2009 the GBRMPA produced a report, clearly stating that the Reef was at a crossroads (NB: words are verbatim from the report, the underlining is mine):

“This first Outlook Report identifies climate change, continued declining water quality from catchment runoff, loss of coastal habitats from coastal development and remaining impacts from fishing and illegal fishing and poaching as the priority issues reducing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.”

So what actions did the Federal and Queensland State governments take on hearing this dire warning?

Well clearly, sweet FA. Here is the summary of the 2014 report (again, the words are verbatim, the underlining is mine):

“Notwithstanding positive actions since 2009, the greatest risks to the Great Barrier Reef have not changed. Climate change, poor water quality from land-based run-off, impacts from coastal development, and some remaining impacts of fishing remain the major threats to the future vitality of the Great Barrier Reef.”

A reef in decline

And what is the response of Federal and Queensland State governments now?

Well, they have produced the ‘Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan’ for public consultation. Here’s a telling quote:

“The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan presents a comprehensive strategy to protect the Reef’s values into the future while allowing ecologically sustainable development and use.”

And…

“These plans will outline how avoidance, mitigation, management and restoration actions combine to ensure development is sustainable.”

Which clearly proves that their focus is on development and they choose to ignore the fact that the threats to the Reef come from outside the marine park, and yet are under the control of the Federal and State governments. There is no point protecting the Reef’s values because the way we’re going there won’t be a Reef in 35 years.

As a result UNESCO is going to re-label the Reef “in danger”, and our panicky ministers, instead of ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING are off to Europe to see if they can blue-wash the World Heritage Committee.

As seen from the plane at Wistari Reef diving Heron Island. Scuba holiday travel planning for Heron Island - where, who and how

What should they really be doing?

Well let’s look at the issues, and don’t get me wrong – they are complex – but we have a lot of clever people in Australia, we just need the right people working on the right stuff. Tackling the easiest first:

Problem 1: Impacts of fishing and illegal fishing.

The issue is mainly non-commercial fishers (that’s the general public unfortunately) not knowing the rules, and the overall catch not being monitored.

Solution:

Give the GBRMPA funds for an education campaign, followed by a massive increase in fines for offenders, and resource the policing so they can enforce the rules effectively.

Zone 1 The Lagoon at the Reef Education Centre diving Lady Elliot Island. Scuba holiday travel planning for Lady Elliot Island - where, who and how

Problem 2: Coastal development.

This includes residential, as well as port developments.

Let’s look at residential development first…

The 2013 State Planning Policy defines the Queensland Government’s policies about planning and development. It recognises biodiversity, coastal environment, cultural heritage, water quality and natural hazards and sets out outcomes and requirements in relation to each.

But it is not clear how important risks including the loss of coastal wetlands and the modification of floodplains are addressed or mitigated.

And let’s consider ports…

There are 12 trading ports in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, managed by four individual port authorities, all of which are Queensland Government-owned corporations.

Solution:

I’m open to ideas on this one, but one thing I can say for sure is that the Queensland Government, being so much part of the problem, needs to be part of the solution.

A million little fish at Second Reef diving Lady Elliot Island. Scuba holiday travel planning for Lady Elliot Island - where, who and how

Problem 3: continued declining water quality.

This is caused by run-off and other sources such as industrial waste water from Queensland Nickel.

Solution:

Empower the GBRMPA to enforce policies and fight abusers through existing legal channels with both big fines and comprehensive remediation from polluters who are found guilty.

Problem 4: global climate change.

Solution:

Our Federal Government needs to end its cosy relationship with dirty coal, and start thinking about how to harness renewable energy on a large scale and push it out throughout our existing grid before people start to opt out in greater numbers.

Hands up who wants to protect the reef at Blue Pools diving Heron Island. Scuba holiday travel planning for Heron Island - where, who and how

Now, we don’t pretend to have a monopoly on these kinds of ideas. So hands up anyone who does have good ideas. We’d love to hear what YOU THINK could be done on a local level to help save the reef.

 

Please tell us what you think in the comments below – we’ll send your suggestions on!