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article imageReef 2050 'will not save Australia's Great Barrier Reef'

By Karen Graham     Oct 28, 2014 in Environment
The Australian government's plan to save the iconic Great Barrier Reef is less than adequate, failing to address the major reasons behind the reef's decline, say scientists from the Australian Academy of Science.
The draft plan, called Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, is supposed to be a guideline for not only protecting the reef, but the adjacent Queensland coastline. The plan was developed in partnership with the governments of Australia and Queensland, with added input from various environmental and other groups. Citizens were given six-weeks to respond to the draft, with public submissions on the plan being closed on Monday.
After this time, the Australian government will study any public concerns before submitting the plan to the UNESCO World Heritage committee in late January, 2015 for their consideration in mid-2015. UNESCO has threatened to put the Great Barrier Reef on its endangered World Heritage sites.
Yes  you can see the Great Barrier Reef from space.
Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Re...
Yes, you can see the Great Barrier Reef from space. Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Queensland coastal areas of Airlie Beach and Mackay.
NASA Images
Will the plan be enough to save the reef?
But the question remains: Will the Reef 2050 Plan be enough to protect one of the world's greatest natural wonders? Scientists from Australia's Academy of Science say "No." The plan failed to address the role of climate change in the degradation of the reef, and did not address poor water-quality, coastal development or fishing.
The Business Insider quoted academy fellow Terry Hughes as saying, "The science is clear, the reef is degraded and its condition is worsening. This is a plan that won't restore the reef, it won't even maintain it in its already diminished state."
Hughes also points out, "The plan also seems overly focused on the short-term task of addressing UNESCO's concerns about the reef's World Heritage Listing, rather than the longer-term challenges of restoring the values of the reef."
Of particular interest is the submission of a response by Hughes on behalf of the Academy of Science, made Oct. 28, 2014. In the submission, Hughes acknowledged the draft plan points out the "greatest risks to the reef are climate change, poor water quality from land-based run off, impacts from coastal development and some fishing activities, it fails to effectively address any of these pressures."
The Academy of Sciences instead wants a much bolder approach to the problem of saving the reef. The submission outlined a number of recommendations that would restore the value of the reef and prevent further degradation. Hughes points out the draft plan proposes to "maintain" the values for the reef, when it should instead provide a pathway for restoring the outstanding universal value (OUV). While some targets are specified in the draft plan, many other targets are not even mentioned, such as climate change, reducing carbon emissions and the increased agriculture and industrial activity along the coast.
In defence of Plan 2050, Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a press release, the plan was based on the "best available science". Hunt went on to say, "We have a clear plan and a strong commitment to ensure the reef is healthy and resilient - and we are making strong progress. Water quality in the World Heritage area is improving as a result of a partnership between farmers and governments to stop fertilisers, chemicals and sediments running off farming land and into the rivers and creeks along the Queensland coast."
The Abbot Point coal port dumping controversy
It's difficult for many people to comprehend why Greg Hunt would approve a dredging plan to create three shipping terminals for a coal port. But in 2013, that it just what he did. The dredging would result in 3.0 million cubic meters of dredged seabed being dumped into the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.
The Abbot Point Coalport.
The Abbot Point Coalport.
GVK Hancock
On 31 January 2014, a permit was issued, even though the potential harm to the reef, sea life and water quality were known. The dredge spoil from the Abbot Point port is being dumped about 15 miles away, close to Bowen in north Queensland, This action will result in the yearly increase in production of 70 million tons of coal, worth around $1.4 to $2.8 billion. Even with a few environmental conditions attached to the approval, there is doubt they will make any difference in the continuing failure of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is in serious trouble
Climate change, pollution from the runoff of fertilizers and industry, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and fishing are the primary threats to the reef system's health today. In a 2012 study conducted by the Academy of Sciences, it was discovered that since 1985, the Great Barrier Reef had lost over half of its coral.
Ocean warming has increased the amount of coral bleaching in the reef. Another result of the warming of the waters is a change in fishes habitats. A number of species of tropical fish have already moved northward to cooler waters. This also affects chickling mortality of seabirds because of a reduction in food.
Over 90 percent of the pollution affecting the water quality in the reef comes from farm runoff. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are posing a major risk to life on the reef. The release of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from fertilizers is especially detrimental to the reef. These chemicals reduce the oxygen levels, causing an increase in algae growth, resulting in decreased biodiversity.
Very young coral-feeding juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish with full set of arms and madreporites.
Very young coral-feeding juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish with full set of arms and madreporites.
The reef is being assaulted more frequently by the crown-of-thorns starfish, a predator that feeds on coral polyps. While their invasions come in cycles, poor water quality plays a big role also. Overfishing can alter the balance of life on the reef. So too does pollution from boats and fisherman dumping by-catch, or unwanted species overboard. All in all, the Great Barrier Reef is suffering greatly, and the Australian government really needs to do more.
More about Australia, Great barrier reef, Sustainability Plan, World Heritage Status, climate change ignored
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