1 April 2015
The Australian Academy of Science is committed to working constructively with governments on the development and implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, which is critical to ensuring a healthy and vibrant Great Barrier Reef for future generations.
During 2014, the Australian Government called for comments on the draft Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan and, in response, the Academy reviewed the Plan and identified a number of areas where further improvements were warranted. The final Plan has since been released, and the Academy sought advice from its Fellows and other experts who reviewed the draft plan on the nature of the changes that have been made and the extent to which they reflect the science.
It is pleasing to note that there have been some positive changes, particularly:
The Academy recommends more actions be added to the Plan to overcome or limit the trajectory of deterioration of the reef’s outstanding universal value which has been well established by numerous reports including the Australian Government’s own 2009 and 2014 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Reports. The Plan should also limit the effects of cumulative impacts on the reef from climate change, fishing pressure, coastal development and dredging.
We believe that a better outcome for the reef would be to further refine and improve the Plan.
A summary of the major issues and the Academy’s broad recommendations is included below, along with a summary of a number of specific points in the Plan that the Academy recommends should be amended or reworded to align with current science.
At a high level, the fundamental driver of reef degradation now and increasingly in the future is climate change. The impacts of climate change on the reef are already being felt, and action cannot be postponed. Climate change is clearly a global issue, and the solutions do not lie within Australia’s direct control. However, Australia remains an influential global player, and significant action on climate change has been initiated by major powers including China and the USA. Protecting the Great Barrier Reef is clearly not either the only or the primary driver of Australia’s need to take action on climate change, but the reef does stand to be one of the major beneficiaries of swift action.
The Academy recommends that the Government continues to explore options to effectively mitigate climate change.
Beyond the broader impacts of climate change, the development of major port terminals that require significant dredging or reclamation is one of the major drivers of increasing current and future impact on the reef.
The Academy recommends that the Plan should be amended to:
The 2050 Plan places no restriction on the volume or disposal of maintenance dredge spoil. Maintenance dredge spoil can have even greater impacts than capital dredge spoil through re-suspension of much finer sediments.
The Academy recommends that the Plan be amended to:
The Academy is concerned that funding for achieving targets may well be a limiting factor to effectively implementing the positive attributes of the 2050 Plan. In particular, it will be difficult to achieve the revised water quality targets with the proposed level of funding.
The Academy recommends that the Government:
Fishing is a legitimate activity within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and this is covered in some detail in the 2050 Plan. However, the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Reports of 2009 and 2014 demonstrate that fishing is causing some impacts beyond those covered in the Plan, and that management of fisheries can be improved.
The Academy recommends that the Plan:
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was originally designated as the independent statutory authority responsible for the planning and management of the Great Barrier Reef. This Plan presents an opportunity to reaffirm this responsibility and to strengthen the expertise and authority of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure the reef's sustainability for the duration of the Plan.
The Academy recommends that:
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