For years we learned as students that the Great Barrier Reef was the most beautiful reef in the world, and many of us (myself included) took a gap year after working hard toward a high ACT score and visit this famous place. It was worth it! Now we hear new but alarming things about the Great Barrier Reef.
All rhetoric and policies around the Great Barrier Reef issues have in no way matched reality while one of the world’s greatest natural wonders keeps on suffering from ongoing pollution. But as in late November 2015, corals in the northern portions of the Great Barrier Reef began to get a bleached white color, things finally turned around.
For many years, the Australian population had been told that one of the world’s most precious ocean jewels was getting better, and it had been only months ago that Australia’s government had been successful to not include the Great Barrier Reef in a United Nations list of endangered world heritage sites.
There was, of course, much at stake. Australia’s international reputations and a million dollar tourist industry were on the line, and the country’s foreign and trade ministers had gone as far as attacking U.S. President Barack Obama, who had expressed his fear for the future of the reef. But the reef wasn’t in danger at all, insisted the Australian ministers. The U.S. president was not well-informed, and dangers to the reef has been overblown, they said.
The Australian mining industry rejected the concerns as green environmentalist propaganda, but they ignored the fact that conservationists were merely echoing the results of studies by scientists from the government itself. Today, over half of the corals in this once so pristine northern section of the reef are dying or already dead.
But in June 2016 it was revealed that the Australian government had censored a realistic UNESCO climate report, where it had deleted all alarming references to the reef as well as the country itself. If it had been the government’s intention to keep negative comments out in an attempt not to harm the touristic sector, it had failed dramatically, because media outlets like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the ‘cover-up’ extensively.
For over a decade, university and government scientists have been outlining two key actions if we want to secure the future of the reef: reduce pollution drastically, and cut fossil fuel emissions. Fossil fuel emissions have been responsible for a dramatic increase of ocean temperatures, which had led to three major coral bleaching occurrences over the passed two decades, and increased CO2 amounts in the earth’s atmosphere have caused the oceans to get more acidic, and this is a key cause for coral to deteriorate.
Time and again, numerous government agencies have been warning that climate change continues to be the most important threat to the future of the great Barrier Reef.
Fact is, though, that practically every bit of the many millions of dollars that have been invested by federal and state governments have been spent to improve water quality and to cut the pollutants from cattle grazing and the sugar cane industry from reaching the reef. We know that pollutants are damaging habitats, and kill corals or at least slow their ability to restore or grow.
Pollutants are also linked to attack outbreaks from coral-eating starfish, and prevent corals from recovery from bleaching caused by global warming and storm damage. But have these investments really affected the water quality?
Well, Australian environment minister Greg Hunt is telling us they have, just as he told the UNESCO world heritage representatives they did, though he knew very well of a June 2015 Queensland governmental report stating that there were “significant uncertainties” about trustworthy elements on water data, and in April 2016, scientists at the AIMS (The Australian Institute of Marine Science) came with a very detailed report on federal and state government policies for improving water quality.
Put in a simple form, the AIMS scientists had come to the conclusion that, though pollution targets had been set at an ambitious level, progress had been very slow, and that the targets were highly unlikely to be met.
The most important habitats were showing severe declines in condition and abundance, the water quality had declined, and the populations of rays, dugongs, and sharks were falling. Now this can hardly be seen as a glowing endorsement of the ‘world’s best-managed ecosystem’, according to mister Hunt. Major issues were that the government programs targeted at farmers were just voluntary, and that just 50% of cane growing land and 10% of land used for grazing was included in government programs.