Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the most remarkable gifts of nature.
As for much of this tired, sad old world today the pressures are steadily increasing and impacting upon its very life.
Previously identified threats to the reef include:
- Water quality impacted by water temperature, salinity, nutrients, sediment concentrations, and pesticides. This is currently estimated to being at critical threshold level.
- Quote: “…the most significant threat to the status of the Great Barrier Reef and of the planet’s other tropical reef ecosystems is climate change..”. Many of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are currently living at the upper edge of their temperature tolerance. **Reef scientist Terry Done has predicted that a one-degree rise in global temperature would result in 82% of the reef bleached, two degrees resulting in 97% and three degrees resulting in “total devastation”.
- The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish is a coral reef predator. Although large outbreaks of these starfish are believed to occur in natural cycles, human activity in and around the Great Barrier Reef can worsen the effects.
- Unsustainable overfishing of key species such as the Giant Triton and sharks, can cause disruption to food chains vital to life on the reef. Fishing also impacts the reef through increased pollution from boats. Overfishing of herbivore populations cause algal growths on reefs.
- Shipping accidents are also a major concern, as several commercial shipping routes pass through the Great Barrier Reef. It is estimated that about 6,000 vessels greater than 50 metres in length use the Great Barrier Reef as a route. From 1985-2001, there were 11 collisions and 20 groundings in Great Barrier Reef. The leading cause of shipping accidents in the Great Barrier Reef is human error. A total of 282 oil spills occurred 1987-2002.
The Great Barrier Reef now faces the possibility of being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list within 8 months.
According to Greenpeace, ““There are 35 major development applications seeking approval within the next 18 months that would impact on the reef.”
Knowledge of many of these impacts has been with us now for several decades. Is it only when it becomes Crisis Time that Australians are prepared to take action?
In a report described as scathing criticism, UNESCO has stated that no further major development should go ahead without an overall assessment of the reef’s health. The response from Premier Campbell Newman was that although his government is committed to protecting the reef, that he will not be stopping development connected to the coal and liquified natural gas industries. He added that this was not going to happen.
“We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat, we all need to understand that,” Campbell Newman said.
That which followed almost immediately was a statement from Environment Minister Tony Burke who suggested that the Commonwealth would “take back control of major environmental approvals from the Queensland government”.
The two governments had been working on a single environmental approval process for (Gina Rinehart’s $6.4 billion) Alpha Coal Project in central Queensland. However that the Queensland government had not upheld its end of the deal, “because the State government’s assessment report does not meet Commonwealth standards“.
Burke labelled the Queensland government’s input as “a shambolic effort”. Campbell Newman then countered with a plea for PM Gillard to rein in “her rogue minister”.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman last night expressing ”deep concern and disappointment” about his state’s environmental assessment of the proposed mega-mine and its associated rail line, which the federal government has branded flawed.
The Prime Minister’s concerns include Queensland’s claim that no green turtles, dugongs and dolphins would be affected.
However, it was noted that these species lived in waters likely to be affected by run-off from earthworks and a railway loop: ”including sediments and nutrients flowing into the Great Barrier Reef”. As per above, these are one of the major environmental impacts contra to the survival of the Reef.
So, this is where things currently remain; we have a UNESCO report calling for a thorough assessment of environmental dangers to the Great Barrier reef with a timeframe of only 8 months, when in their estimation things will reach critical level. We then have a Queensland state government who say that they are “in the coal business”. Let’s hope for the future of one of our greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef that the Federal government holds its ground.