Science Acadamy Great Barrier Reef
Scientific academy slams government’s Great Barrier Reef plan
The country’s leading scientific academy has released a scathing critique of the draft plan to manage the Great Barrier Reef, warning it was inadequate to restore or even maintain the health of the World Heritage site over the next three decades.
In its submission to the federal and Queensland government’s draft Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, the Australian Academy of Science stated the plan failed to acknowledge the reef had already suffered greatly from the pressures of climate change, poor water quality from land run-off, fishing and coastal development.
It concluded the Reef 2050 plan had insufficient targets or resources to reverse the reef’s downward spiral, documented by countless scientific studies and several government reports.
“The draft 2050 plan represents business-as-usual in terms of how escalating pressures on the reef are adequately regulated (or not), when much bolder action is required to restore the values of the reef and prevent further degradation,” the report said.
One of the submission’s authors, marine biologist Terry Hughes, said there was a “window of opportunity” to restore the reef’s condition but it would require a lot more science input than the draft plan.
“There is a huge willingness from the science community to tackle these issues,” said Professor Hughes, an academy fellow and the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
“It’s not rocket science. If the fishing pressure is too high, you reduce it; if the sediment load is too high, you reduce it, and if climate change is a problem, you regulate C02 emissions.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has expressed concern over the decline of the reef because of increasing anthropogenic pressures, particularly the rapid industrialisation of the Queensland coastline, and is threatening to place the reef on the World Heritage In Danger list.
The academy’s submission said the draft plan was overly concerned with short-term measures to appease UNESCO, rather than addressing the long-term challenge of restoring the reef.
“It’s not rocket science”: Professor Terry Hughes. Photo: Supplied
“The plan only deals with run-off, so it basically ignores climate change and has very little to say about things around fishing and enforcement of no fishing zones, which are widely poached,” Professor Hughes said.
Targets and funding to reduce run-off from agriculture to improve the reef’s water quality already exist.
The academy found the draft report was at times inconsistent, that many of its goals were short-sighted, and obvious targets to improve the reef’s health were missing, such as restoring coral cover.
“The draft 2050 plan will ensure growth in new impacts, such as more dredging, coastal development and fossil fuel extraction, that will be superimposed on current pressure,” the report stated.
The academy also noted the report focused on offsetting damage caused by development rather than mitigating it, and ignored the potential conflicts of interest between the regulators and developers.
“It sets up an unhealthy relationship if the regulators are allowing damage to proceed so that offset money [paid by developers] can be used to protect the Barrier Reef,” said Professor Hughes.