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Great Barrier Reef’s D Grade highlights urgent action is required

Great Barrier Reef’s D Grade highlights urgent action is required
February 17, 2021

The joint Queensland and Federal government Reef Water Quality Report Card for 2019, released today, gives an overall D grade for inshore marine conditions, highlighting that the Reef’s inshore condition has not improved since the most recent 2017 and 2018 report.  

While the report shows a slight improvement in water quality to previous years -a reduction in dissolved inorganic nitrogen discharging from all Great Barrier Reef catchments, giving a cumulative reduction of 25.5% since 2013 - the health of corals and seagrass meadows in inshore areas had not improved.

The Australian Marine conservation Society (AMCS) points out that while some important gains have been made in tackling some pollutants, progress falls far short of what is needed to fix the problem of fertiliser and sediment running into the Reef’s waters.

The Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, and Queensland’s Environment and Great Barrier Reef Minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said improved farm practices and a $667million investment to support graziers and sugar cane farmers was helping water conditions.

Minister Ley notes “the fact that the overall marine condition remains poor underlines the importance of those investments.”

The world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system but is under increasing pressure from climate heating that caused mass bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and 2020. The report’s monitoring period ended before the onset of widespread bleaching in early 2020.

Scientists say improving water quality and reducing sediments, fertilisers and chemicals running into the reef’s waters will give the system a greater chance of recovering from future bleaching.

Marine conservationists have urged the Queensland and Federal governments to commit more money to tackling water quality issues in the Great Barrier Reef and speed up the enforcement of reef regulations on farms.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager, Dr Lissa Schindler explains that farm runoff packed with polluting chemicals was recognised by scientists, politicians and conservationists as one of the main threats to the health of the inshore Great Barrier Reef, home to iconic wildlife like dugongs, turtles and dolphins.

“This report underlines how important the recently implemented reef regulations will be in addressing water quality in inshore areas,” she said.

“We hope to see dramatic improvements in water quality in the next report due out in 2022, which will cover the implementation of the regulations.

“As our Reef recovers from three climate change-driven mass coral bleaching events in just five years, it is vital we do all we can to support it, and that means improving water quality as quickly as possible by ensuring compliance and funding for the reef regulations.”

AMCS highlights that the reef regulations were passed in 2019, after this report was written and began rolling out in Queensland last year. Their roll out will continue across the next two years until the end of 2022. However, funding commitments from the Queensland government end in July 2022, leaving farmers without potential government investment to implement the regulation targets. 

Dr Schindler adds “Improving water quality needs the support and dedication of all farmers and graziers in Queensland and they’ll need backing from the Queensland government to adopt the best practices required.

“That’s why we are calling for more funding to help the agricultural sector comply quickly with the regulations.”

The report found that across the whole of the Great Barrier Reef, Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN, from fertiliser run-off) had been reduced by 4.3%, which is an improvement of 4% from the last report. Sediment reduction however was only improved by 0.2% , down from 0.5% in 2017 and 2018.

“We are heartened to see a decrease in the amount of DIN entering the Reef. However these are small gains when considering the government has committed to reducing DIN by 60% by 2025. A 4.3% reduction takes us to 25%, which is still 35% short of the target. We are also falling short of the sediment reduction target of 25% by 2025, with progress so far at 14.6%,” said Dr Schindler.

The report showed the sugarcane farming industry scored a grade E for its contribution to improving water quality, with only 2.9% adopting best farming practices in 2019, bringing the overall total up to 12.7%. The 2025 target requires 90% of sugarcane farms to adopt best practices.

In 2017, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called on governments to accelerate efforts to meet water quality targets set in the Reef 2050 Plan. The World Heritage Committee will meet again later this year to assess Australia’s performance in protecting our Reef and will decide whether it should be listed as ‘in danger’ due to water quality and climate change threats to its world heritage values.

“With only four years left to meet their own water quality targets, now is the time to ramp up efforts in tackling poor water quality,” added Dr Schindler.

“The Reef is a complex interconnected environment that the tourism industry - another important industry for North Queensland - relies on to be healthy and beautiful. Can you imagine Australia - and Queensland - without the Reef? It’s part of what defines us and we have to do all we can to retain it for future generations. While lots of progress is being made, at the moment we are falling short.”

Related Articles

17th February 2021 - Taronga Zoo scientists playing key role in protecting Great Barrier Reef

11th January 2021 - Tablelands Regional Council signs up as reef guardian

4th December 2020 - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority elects Jeff Baines as inaugural Chair of Reef Guardian Council

30th October 2020 - Cairns Regional Council endorses plan for Reef management

15th October 2020 - Cairns Regional Council recommends improvements to Great Barrier Reef plan

9th October 2020 - Australian Marine Conservation Society claims Reef Inquiry confirms what was already known

8th October 2020 - Census launched to help inform Great Barrier Reef key management decisions

30th September 2020 - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority responds to illegal fishing on the Reef

14th September 2020 - Gladstone Regional Council renews its commitment to guarding the Great Barrier Reef

8th September 2020 - Australian Marine Conservation Society welcomes Federal Government intervention into protecting Great Barrier Reef wildlife

21st August 2020 - Whitsunday Council recommits to Reef Guardian Council program

16th June 2020 - Great Barrier Reef campaigners deliver message of Reef-safe recovery

5th June 2020 - Great Barrier Reef Foundation announces Australia’s first integrated Reef Restoration Hub

25th May 2020 - Australian Marine Conservation Society would welcome additional support for reef tourism sector

7th April 2020 - Reef tourism industry and conservationists demand climate action following release of new bleaching survey

5th March 2020 - Great Barrier Reef tourism operators highlight the distressing impacts of coral bleaching 

28th February 2020 - Australian Marine Conservation Society calls for a Reef-safe climate policy

19th September 2019 - Research suggests coral reef protection could benefit all ecosystems

18th September 2019 - Australian Marine Conservation Society condemns inquiry into Reef Science

30th August 2019 - Great Barrier Reef status downgraded to very poor for first time


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