Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Panic about the reef is a hardy perennial; I remember it from 50 years ago. But coral recovers quickly from damage. The Greens would only be happy if all human influences were removed
Two major reports into the health and management of the Great Barrier Reef have found parts of the World Heritage site are still under pressure and the central and southern areas are deteriorating.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt today released a strategic assessment and a five-yearly outlook for the reef.
The United Nations' World Heritage Committee is concerned about the Abbot Point port expansion and the plan to dump of three million cubic metres of dredge spoil within the marine park.
It is due to decide next year whether to list the reef as a World Heritage site "in danger".
The outlook report, prepared by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), found the health of the reef was still worrying compared to its last report five years ago.
"Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor and getting worse," the authority's chairman Russell Reichelt wrote.
While pollutants entering the reef had measurably reduced since 2009, the greatest risks have not changed.
They include climate change, farm run-off, coastal developments and fishing.
In recent years, a series of major storms and floods have affected an ecosystem already under strain, and the accumulation of all impacts had the potential to further weaken its resilience.
"This is likely to affect its ability to recover from series disturbances, such as major coral bleaching events, which are predicted to become more frequent," the report said.
"The Great Barrier Reef is an icon under pressure.
"Without promptly reducing threats, there is a serious risk that resilience will not be improved and there will be irreversible declines in the region’s values.”
The report found the northern third of the region has good water quality and its ecosystem was in good condition.
However, the habitat, species, and ecosystem in the central and southern inshore areas had continued to deteriorate because of human use and natural disasters.
The dugong population, which was already at very low levels, had declined further in those areas.
Overall, some species were rebounding, including humpback whales, estuarine crocodile and loggerhead turtles.
Hunt confident reef won't be listed as 'in danger'
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there had been some improvements, but there needed to be more.
"The report is a mixture of pressure and progress," he said.
"In the south, there were some real negatives, to be honest. Now is the moment that we have to turn around the reef."
He said he was confident the Government would do enough to save the reef from being listed "in danger", including reducing port developments.
"It was put on the review list on somebody else's watch," he said. "Our task is to not just remove it from the watch list, but to make sure the reef recovers to its former glory."
Environmentalists want the Government to commit billions to reduce water pollution.
WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said billions were being spent to save the Murray River, and the reef needed the same commitment.
"Australians are deeply concerned that our national icon is dying on our watch," he said.