The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is the only living organic mass visible from space. It’s the world’s largest coral ecosystem, spanning more than 300,000 kilometres. In 1981 it was declared a World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was added to the National Heritage List. A report from Deloitte says it contributes between $5 and $6 billion to the Australian economy each year.
It is also dying.
Now it at risk of being stripped of its World Heritage status.
The Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, needs to act and act fast. Elected last year, the Labor member for Inala, needs to know the whole world is watching.
March this year saw largest amount coral die on the Great Barrier Reef in recorded history. This event was caused by a distinct rise in water temperatures, which lead to coral bleaching. Scientists observed up to 50 per cent mortality in the northern-most third of the reef.
In October, more death was discovered and researchers said “many more [corals] have died more slowly” since the March survey. The bleaching itself doesn’t lead to coral death. It does however, put the reef under extreme amounts of stress.
This month, there’s been more bad news after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) – also known as the world’s heritage body – has threatened to put the Great Barrier Reef on its “in danger” list.
Why? Because the Queensland and Federal Governments have failed to deliver on key sustainability measures.
A joint report from the State and Federal Governments was presented to UNESCO early this month, in an attempt to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the list.
The report showed the governments' progress on the current action plan, designed to boost reef health by 2050.
The report said 32 of the plan's 151 actions to improve the reef have been achieved. Another 103 are underway, three are delayed, and 12 are not yet due.
The biggest fail, however, has been the failure to implement laws around tree-clearing designed to protect the Great Barrier Reef which were suggested by the World Heritage Committee in 2015. The suggestions came after scientists linked land clearing to sediment run off, which causes a decline in water and reef quality.
An August statement from the Statewide Land Cover and Tree Study showed tree clearing has continued at the "unacceptable" rate of almost 300,000 hectares per year. As well as this, 108,000 hectares was cleared in the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas in 2014-15.
"If what's detailed in the [progress] report is the sum total of the actions that the Australian and Queensland Governments are going to take, then I think they are risking the world heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef," WWF's Richard Leck said.
"Scientists know what needs to be done. We need to tackle farm pollution, we need to stop clearing trees in reef catchments and we need to take urgent action on climate change, and this report really gives no reassurance on those issues."
The response from the Queensland government was this:
"So we have recommitted ourselves to those laws to UNESCO and said that given the opportunity we will implement them, and we hope UNESCO will see that for what it is and give us the time to do that," the Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles told the ABC.
Problem is, Mr Miles does not see an opportunity to pass those laws in Parliament until the next election. "It really it comes down to contesting the next election and winning a majority in Parliament," he said.
The next Queensland state election is set to be held in 2018. If these laws are not brought to Parliament, passed and implemented before then, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of being stripped of its World Heritage status.
This will hold dire implications for Queensland tourism, and the State's economy.
"That money circulates through local communities, regional communities, on and on, and it employs and generates employment for about 50,000 Queenslanders," said Daniel Gschwind from Queensland's Tourism Industry Council.
It will change the way Australia is perceived globally, for its role in stopping global warming.
"The Paris climate agreement says that globally we need to keep our global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees [Celsius]. Scientists say 1.5 is the maximum that we can have to keep coral reefs healthy globally," Mr Leck said. "Australia needs to start leading, not lagging in that global effort."
When the Great Barrier Reef is more dead than alive, we will question why we didn't act when we still had time to save one of the great wonders of the world.
It's one of Australia's greatest icons. It's home to 3000 reefs. Hundreds and thousands of coral and marine life.
What a pity to let that go to waste. When measures to stop its destruction are not only in reach, but immediately possible.
Annastacia Palaszczuk you need to lead your government to make this change. The World Heritage Fund is wondering why you're not taking action. The rest of Australia is asking too.