Government plan won’t save Great Barrier Reef: Academy

October 28, 2014

The Academy of Science has warned that a draft plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef won’t prevent its decline and fails to address key pressures affecting the Australian icon.

In its submission to the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, the Academy warns that the draft plan fails to effectively address any of the key pressures on the reef including climate change, poor water quality, coastal development and fishing.

The plan also does not address the fundamental governance issues for the reef, including conflict of interest issues and a lack of oversight.

One of the submission’s contributing experts and Academy Fellow, Professor Terry Hughes said much bolder action is required to restore the Reef.

“The science is clear, the Reef is degraded and its condition is worsening. This is a plan that won’t restore the reef, it won’t even maintain it in its already diminished state,” Professor Hughes said.

“It is also more than disappointing to see that the biggest threat to the reef – climate change – is virtually ignored in this plan,” he said.

“While the plan identifies targets for reducing agricultural runoff, any improvements are likely to be swamped by unprecedented amounts of dredging for coal ports and by plans by the Queensland government to double agricultural production by 2040.

“The future of this national treasure, which generates over $5 billion per annum for the Australian economy, depends on less pollution from runoff and dredging, less carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and less fishing pressure.

“The plan also seems overly focussed on the short-term task of addressing UNESCO’s concerns about the reef’s World Heritage Listing, rather than the longer-term challenges of restoring the values of the Reef.”

The submission also states that the reef is under ever increasing pressure, arguably made worse by recent policy and legislative changes such as Australia currently having no mechanism in place to reduce carbon emissions.

The Academy’s submission can be found at our website.

The following is a summary list of recommendations the Academy has outlined in its submission on the draft Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

  • Clearly defined Priority Port Development Areas should be established to limit port expansion.
  • Any impacts within these priority areas need to be minimised using ‘world’s best practice’.
  • Dredging must be prohibited outside of these priority areas.
  • Complementary Federal and State legislation to permanently ban sea dumping of any dredge spoil within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is supported .
  • The need for four mega-ports adjoining the Great Barrier Reef is questioned.
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment process needs to be reformulated to ensure transparency and independent assessments of impacts.
  • The governance of the Great Barrier Reef must be improved
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority needs to be re-empowered and adequately resourced. The Authority should then implement the Reef 2050 Plan.
  • Develop and resource a 50-year plan for use of the reef catchment (similar to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan).

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