Friday, November 28, 2014

We Need to Do More for the Great Barrier Reef

Barack Obama was right, and Julie Bishop was wrong, about the health of the Great Barrier Reef. WWF Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society in a report this year to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee have stated:

"The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (the Reef) is in crisis. Since its inscription on the World Heritage List in 1981 the condition of the Reef has seriously declined, with the declines accelerating in the past decade despite management measures aimed at increasing the Reef’s level of protection and reducing fishing and pollution pressures. The Australian community is looking to the World Heritage Committee to maintain a watching brief and exert influence on the Australian and Queensland governments to implement the transformational management changes required now to halt and reverse the decline in the Reef’s health and resilience.

These changes are urgent as ecosystem recovery of coral reefs can take decades; however current proposals by the Australian and Queensland governments have time-frames of up to 5 years before relatively modest changes are likely to be implemented. The proposed changes will do little to mitigate the impacts on the World Heritage property in the short to medium term from existing and currently proposed developments.

Drawing on the findings of the draft Great Barrier Reef Region Strategic Assessment prepared by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), following is an overview of the current condition and trend of the attributes contributing to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Reef.

  • More than half of the attributes for all four OUV criteria show a deteriorating trend since inscription of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Area.
  • The overall condition of three of the four OUV criteria is declining.
  • The criterion for Integrity of the GBRWHA is declining.
  • Overall, the attributes that make up the criterion, Habitats for conservation of biodiversity are in poor condition and are declining.
  • The main pressures on OUV continue to be climate change impacts, poor water quality due to agricultural run-off and impacts associated with coastal development including ports. Impacts on values are from legacy effects, current pressures and cumulative impacts that have already, and are continuing to lower the resilience of GBRWHA ecosystems.
  • Key values of the GBRWHA that play a significant role in its OUV are in poor or very poor condition and the majority are showing a declining trend, including: inshore coral reefs and corals in the lower two thirds of the Region; seagrass meadows and seagrasses; freshwater wetlands; grass and sedgelands; woodlands; connecting water bodies; sharks and rays; marine turtles; seabirds;  shorebirds; dugongs; Indigenous sacred sites, sites of particular significance, places important for cultural tradition;  Indigenous stories, song lines, totems and languages; and Indigenous structures, technology, tools and archaeology."

The Great Barrier Reef is not just an environmental asset – it’s an economic asset as well – employing 65,000 people and contributing $6 billion to the Australian economy every year. This figure will grow as tourism is set to be one of Australia’s super-growth sectors over the next 20 years, which is why it’s important we get this right. The Great Barrier Reef attracts millions of visitors each year.

The Liberal Government has enforced wide ranging cuts to the agencies tasked with managing the Reef and the programs designed to improve the Reef’s health. Labor has offered bipartisan support to the Federal Government to ensure the Reef is not placed on the “World Heritage in Danger” List. Such an outcome would be a disastrous for Australians.

Labor recognises the urgency for taking immediate action that will protect the Reef from the impacts of issues such as coastal development, and would if re-elected impose a ban on capital dredge spoil being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Labor will oppose any further cuts made to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Bureau of Meteorology, tourism, marketing, research and small business grants programs imposed by the Liberal Government.

The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon. It’s the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, and is home to thousands of types of marine animals. Understanding the threats to the Great Barrier Reef is the key to developing protection measures, and Labor is committed to ensuring stringent environmental protection measures are in place.

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