Australia Claims Progress at Protecting Great Barrier Reef

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By Murray Griffin

Dec. 2 — Australia is making progress in protecting the country’s Great Barrier Reef, the government claimed Dec. 2, just days after scientists said the reef suffered the largest die-off of corals ever recorded.

The federal and Queensland state governments Dec. 2 released a progress report to UNESCO on implementation of their “Reef 2050” preservation plan, which details about 150 steps the governments plan to protect the vast and iconic World Heritage area.

Federal and Queensland state governments said “good progress” had been made through legislative controls on dredging and strengthened efforts to ensure sugar cane growers and ranchers don’t allow excess sediment and nutrients to enter rivers and streams that flow into the coastline along a 1,400-mile stretch of Australia’s northeast coast.

The governments did acknowledge that one significant action item in the 2050 plan has been “significantly delayed,” namely efforts by Queensland to strengthen laws against land clearing, which were intended partly to reduce sediment flows into the reef caused by erosion.

The Queensland Parliament in August rejected a bill to strengthen the laws, and it’s not clear when or if it will be reintroduced.

‘Not Doing its Fair Share’

Australia is “still not doing its fair share to tackle global warming, the greatest threat to the reef,” said WWF Australia Chief Executive Officer Dermot O’Gorman.

The government report was released three days after scientists at the Coral Reef Studies Center at James Cook University confirmed the Great Barrier Reef had suffered the largest die-off of corals ever recorded, following a major bleaching event.

“The worst affected area, a 700-kilometer swath of reefs in the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef has lost an average of 67 percent of its shallow-water corals in the past eight to nine months,” the center said Nov. 29.

Die-Off Linked to Climate Change

The bleaching event was a result of a rise in sea-surface temperatures caused by climate change compounded by a strong El Nino event, the study said.

Scientists expect the northern region will take at least 10 years to 15 years to regain the lost corals but are concerned that a new bleaching event could occur and interrupt the slow recovery, they said.

In the report to UNESCO, Australia and Queensland said it would be “impractical at this time” to allocate billions of dollars to improve water quality, even though a recent study commissioned by the Queensland government concluded A$8.2 billion ($6.1 billion) would be needed to meet 2025 reef water quality targets.

WWF’s O’Gorman said funding commitments “fall well short of what is needed,” and progress on water quality has been poor.

The two governments are expected to submit their next progress report on the Great Barrier Reef to UNESCO in 2019.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Murray Griffin in Melbourne, Australia, at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

For More Information

The Reef 2050 progress report sent to UNESCO is available at http://bit.ly/2gHZHaG.

Information on the Coral Reef Studies Center study on the Great Barrier Reef is available at http://bit.ly/2fXqoY3.

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