Can the Reef Survive? One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World Is under Pressure from Development, Predators and Climatic Changes, While Australia Is under Pressure to Do Something about It

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Byline: DANIEL BURDON

IT IS the largest coral reef system on the planet and one of Australiaas favourite holiday destinations.

It is the worldas largest single structure of living organisms and can be seen from space.

It generates millions of tourism dollars every year and supports thousands of Aussie jobs.

If you have ever been to the Great Barrier Reef, or dreamed of going there, you may already know that it is regarded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

But this World Heritage site is under serious threat.

Over the past 27 years, the combination of natural storms and cyclones, the crown of thorns starfish and coral bleaching have led to the loss of half of the reefas coral cover.

The 2009 report on the outlook for the reef also cited climate change, declining water quality from catchment run-off, loss of coastal habitats from coastal development and the impacts of shipping, fishing and illegal fishing as other threats.

In its sobering report in October, the Australian Institute of Marine Science also predicted that if current trends continued, the remaining half of the reefas coral would be gone within 10 years.

On top of the coral loss, numerous new port developments along the Queensland coast have compounded public concern for the reefas future.

The United Nations World Heritage Committee (WHC) has long known of many of the threats; expressing its aextreme concerna last year after the Federal Government approved three LNG projects on Curtis Island in the World Heritage area.

Construction of the three LNG plants on Curtis Island is underway, while a fourth proposed development on the island has stalled, but may still go ahead.

As part of the expansion, the Gladstone Ports Corporation is dredging 46 million cubic metres of sediment from the seabed to create access for gas tankers.

The dredging played a role in a national controversy, with renewed questions in recent weeks over a possible link between fish health problems and the project.

Further north, a three million cubic metre dredging project is proposed at Abbot Point near Bowen to allow for expansion at the port.

Those expansions were also on a list of projects which could affect the reef which the Federal Government provided to the committee last year.

Since that list was handed over, the Queensland Government has abandoned an additional expansion at Abbot Point, recently asking for expressions of interest for a much smaller expansion in the area.

The Federal Environment Department was also waiting on environmental impact statements for the Dudgeon Point coal port expansion at Hay Point near Mackay and the Fitzroy Terminal at Port Alma near Rockhampton.

After a monitoring mission to the reef last year, the WHC recommended no new developments be approved outside of existing port areas and that a huge strategic assessment of the reef be completed.

Good news for everyone who cares about the reef, and about Australiaas natural ecosystem, is that the strategic assessment is under way.

The Queensland Government and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are working together on the report, with the first draft expected in early March. …