Rescue Reef from Rotten Run-off

Rescue Reef from Rotten Run-off

For years now, we have been hearing that Australia’s World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is under threat, not only from climate change impacts, which are serious enough, but from run-off from the land and over fishing. Is enough action being taken to stop the rot for the reef?

Ken Hickson reports:

For years now, we have been hearing that Australia’s World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is under threat, not only from climate change impacts, which are serious enough, but from run-off from the land and over fishing. Is enough action being taken to stop the rot for the reef?

Millions of dollars have already been poured into research, which is continuing to emphasise the problems and point to the solutions. Governments, with considerable push from organisations like WWF, are finally doing something on the land to stop the run-off of toxic farm chemicals.

At a day-long session in Brisbane last week, involving business, community groups, scientists and interested observers, WWF brought together the best and latest to tell what is happening to the Reef today.

From the Chairman and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Dr Russel Reichelt and the Managing Director of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Sheridan Morris, attendees heard from the land mark Outlook Report as well as latest observations.

The message was quite stark and quite clear. Climate change impact on the reef is not some distant possibility. It is very real and the evidence is there now.

Greg Bourne, WWF CEO summed it up dramatically:

  • Coral growth rates are at 400 year lows
  • 700 reefs are threatened by toxic farm chemical run-off
  • Overfishing by trawlers means by-catch is killing countless marine animals
  • Inappropriate coastal development is jeopardising turtle, dolphin and dugong populations.

Of course things cannot change over-night. We know it will take us many years to see any benefit from CO2 emissions reductions. But there are some things we can do straight away.

We can stop the run off of dangerous chemicals which are giving the corals such a hard time. That’s achieveable.  Farmers must be forced to stop the rot for the sake of the reef.

The fishing industry must also be forced to control itself – or the Government must step in to catch and penalise the offenders. They are taking too many fish and they are trawling indiscriminately. Far too many marine animals – dolphins among them – are being caught in nets.

James Turner from Fumunda (www.fumunda.com) attended the Brisbane gathering with news of his unique “pinger” which can save dolphins from being caught. It is attached to nets and sends out warning signals to the marine animals.

We have to invest more effort to get the right message to the right people. We have to do more to tackle the preventable, even if we cannot stop the tide of climate change impact on the reef.

WWF and all the reef research agencies say Federal, State and Local Government know what the reef problems are and have the money set aside to fix them.

The tourist industry of Queensland and Australia relies on the Great Barrier Reef. It is a major money spinner for business and the Governments.

But this iconic destination – along with thousands of jobs – will be lost unless action is taken sooner than later.

With the release of the Outlook Report – which first saw the light of day in September this year – here’s what AFP reported:

The World Heritage-listed reef was already showing the impacts of climate change, with two episodes of mass coral bleaching in the past 10 years, the Marine Park Authority’s inaugural reef outlook report said.

“While populations of almost all marine species are intact and there are no records of extinctions, some ecologically important species, such as dugongs, marine turtles, seabirds, black teatfish and some sharks, have declined significantly,” the authority wrote.

Coral disease, outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae and infestation by pestilent species such as the crown-of-thorns starfish appeared to be becoming more frequent and more serious, it added.

The 345,000-square-kilometre (133,000-square-mile) attraction had deteriorated significantly since European settlement in 1788 and was at a “crossroads”, the report warned.

“Almost all the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef will be affected by climate change, with coral reef habitats the most vulnerable,” the report said.

“Coral bleaching resulting from increasing sea temperature and lower rates of calcification in skeleton-building organisms such as corals because of ocean acidification, are the effects of most concern and are already evident.”

The runoff of nitrogen-based pesticides from local farming areas was a particular concern, the report said, adding that their impact remained “largely unknown”.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the report showed strong decisive action needed to be taken, and pledged to halve agricultural runoff by 2013 and to reduce sediment loads by 20 percent by 2020.

“Improving the quality of water flowing into the reef is one of the most important things we can do to help the reef withstand the impacts of climate change,” Garrett said.

Australia’s centre-left government has already pledged 52 million dollars (42 million US) to improve water quality on the reef.

It has also agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent of 2000 levels by 2020 if world leaders sign up to an ambitious reduction goal in Copenhagen in December.

Without an agreement, Australia’s target will remain unchanged at five percent.

For a full copy of the Outlook Report visit:  www.gbrmpa.gov.au.

Also visit the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre – www.rrrc.org.au

Another source of current information on Reef research and action is Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland. Visit his website www.climateshifts.org

Source: www.wwf.org.au

One Response to “Rescue Reef from Rotten Run-off”

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