State of Great Barrier Reef likely to worsen, Canberra admits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:40pm

Australia's 2,300km-long Great Barrier Reef remains under threat and is likely to deteriorate further despite efforts to control major sources of damage to the World Heritage-listed icon, the government said yesterday.

Canberra released a five-yearly review of the reef and plans to protect it to deal with concerns raised by Unesco, and persuade the UN agency promoting international collaboration through education, science and culture, not to put the tourist attraction on its "in danger" list next year.

"Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate," the government said in a report.

The fragile reef, running along Australia's east coast, is at the centre of a campaign by green groups and marine tourist operators to stop a planned coal port expansion involving millions of cubic metres of sand dredged and dumped near the reef.

The reef has the world's largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong, a marine mammal, and large green turtle, the World Heritage list says.

The government said run-off from farms, crown-of-thorns starfish and climate change were the biggest threats to the reef, but admitted shipping and dredging took place in reef areas already facing other impacts.

"Greater reductions of all threats at all levels, reef-wide, regional and local, are required to prevent the projected declines in the Great Barrier Reef and to improve its capacity to recover."

The government said it would not allow any port development outside long-established ports in Queensland. Those existing ports include Abbot Point, where India's Adani Group and compatriot GVK plan a huge coal terminal expansion, and Gladstone, where ship traffic will rise sharply from 2015 as huge new liquefied natural gas plants start exports.

Green groups said the report did not absolve the mining industry, which was digging up coal for export, adding to climate change and expanding ports along the reef.

"The greatest risk is climate change," said Wendy Tubman, an official at the North Queensland Conservation Council, which leads a legal fight against the Abbot Point expansion.

"And we all know what the greatest contribution to climate change is: that's mining coal for export."

The Queensland Resources Council, which represents the mining industry, said it backed the state government's plans to improve port development and management along the reef.