Australia admits Barrier Reef conditions are 'poor'

July 10, 2013 by Amy Coopes
Bleached coral is shown near Halfway Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, October 2, 2012. Australia has admitted conditions at the Great Barrier Reef are "poor" as it battles UNESCO threats to downgrade its heritage status over concerns about pollution and development.

Australia admitted Wednesday conditions at the Great Barrier Reef are "poor" as it battles UNESCO threats to downgrade its heritage status over concerns about pollution and development.

Environment Minister Mark Butler released a report card showing that the reef's health had slumped since 2009 due to cyclones and floods, despite progress on reducing .

"Extreme weather events significantly impacted the overall condition of the which declined from moderate to poor overall,' the report said.

It said key were showing "declining trends in condition due to continuing poor water quality, cumulative and increasing frequency and intensity of ".

Despite reductions in nitrogen (seven percent), pesticides (15 percent), sediment (six percent) and pollutants key to outbreaks of devastating crown-of-thorns starfish (13 percent), the report said the reef was in trouble.

Major flooding in 2010-2011 followed by powerful cyclone Yasi had badly damaged the world's largest coral reef, degrading water quality and depleting overall cover by 15 percent.

"Full recovery will take decades," the report said.

Conservationists said the report was alarming and showed the need for far greater action from the government, with the current plan and targets "unlikely to save our reef".

Graphic on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Major flooding in 2010-2011 followed by powerful cyclone Yasi had badly damaged the world's largest coral reef, degrading water quality and depleting overall cover by 15 percent.

"The outlook for the reef is not good but the situation isn't hopeless, solutions do exist," said WWF's Nick Heath.

"We just need more investment, more targeted action in the most dangerous pollution hotspots."

While reductions had been achieved, Heath said they were far short of 2009 targets, particularly pollutants key to starfish outbreaks, which fell by 13 percent instead of 50 percent—a goal now pushed back to 2018.

"We are likely to need a reduction target of up to 80 percent if we are to arrest crown-of-thorns outbreaks," he said.

A major of the reef's health, published last year, revealed that coral cover had more than halved due to storms, predatory starfish outbreaks and bleaching linked to climate change over the past 27 years.

Intense tropical cyclones were responsible for much of the damage, accounting for 48 percent, with the coral-feeding starfish linked to 42 percent, according to the study.

UNESCO has threatened to downgrade the reef's world heritage status to declare it at-risk in 2014 without significant action on rampant coastal and resources development seen as a threat to its survival.

Scientists who advised the government on the reef's health for the report card said declining water quality associated with agricultural and other runoff was a "major cause of the current poor state".

The team, led by James Cook University's Jon Brodie, said intense floods and cyclones had also "severely impacted marine water quality and Great Barrier Reef ecosystems".

"Climate change is predicted to increase the intensity of ," it said.

Butler unveiled lofty targets for improving water quality over the next five years, aiming for at least a 50 percent reduction on 2009 levels of nitrogen pollutants linked to crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, 20 percent for sediment runoff and 60 percent for pesticides.

"In spite of solid improvement, data tells us that poor water quality is continuing to have a detrimental effect on reef health," Butler said.

"To secure the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef it is critical that we build on the momentum of the previous reef plan with a focus on improving water quality and land management practices through ambitious but achievable targets.

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1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 10, 2013
And this is the real reason why Australia is suing Japan about whaling. Australia doesn't care about the Barrier Reef Australia considers the Barrier Reef a barrier to making money from coal mining in Queensland. To distract the environmentalist would normally be outraged they are suddenly using their influence to try and stop Japan from whaling as if they really care. Australia has more creatures on the Red List, a-list of animals ready to go completely extinctn. than the entire world combined. It's time the world realized the worst environmental destruction is not the Amazon its in Australia. The only reason why it gets away with what it does is western bias
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2013
Yup, it's all a nefarious plan.

The child molester said the same thing when he was arrested. It was only because the cops wanted to avoid catching those murderers and bank robbers.

1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2013
@Jonseer I tend to agree. I don't live in Queensland, but from what I've heard, their government is putting all of the profits of coal mining above the importance of the GBR, and sadly, they aren't doing nearly enough to protect its future. But I disagree with you about the Japanese whaling. One issue doesn't necessarily make another less important. As for the Red List, you're also right. But many other countries have already driven much of their wildlife to extinction. The US and Canada and certain European countries also have a lot of species on the Red List.

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