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Environment minister Greg Hunt admits Great Barrier Reef is in trouble


Great Barrier Reef

A moray eel in the Great Barrier Reef near Queensland’s Heron Island. Photograph: Sam Wright/AAP


Powered by article titled “Environment minister Greg Hunt admits Great Barrier Reef is in trouble” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Thursday 14th August 2014 05.53 UTC

They say the first way to treat a problem is to admit the problem exists. In that respect, the Australian government may be coming to terms with what it will take to turn around the worrying state of the Great Barrier Reef.

An outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the government agency tasked with overseeing the reef’s health, declines to mince its words.

The reef is an “icon under pressure” that has suffered a dip in health since the last major analysis of its condition in 2009.

“The overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate in the future,” the assessment warns. “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.”

Greg Hunt, the federal environment minister, has previously been at pains to inform the world, via the UN, which has threatened to list the reef as “in danger” next year, that the reef is still in good shape and that his Reef 2050 plan should be enough to return it to its halcyon days.

Just two weeks ago, Hunt appeared on Andrew Bolt’s show to assure viewers that approving Australia’s largest coalmine was no issue for the reef, despite the GBRMPA citing climate change as “the most serious threat to the reef.” Asked about the implications of rising temperatures (by Bolt, of all people) Hunt could only offer up the fact that the mine would provide more Indian people with electricity.

Hunt also pointed out that the Adani mine was “500km inland, not on the coast as the GetUps and the extreme left of the Australian political scheme would have people believe”.

Such a belief would indeed be strange, although it would also be odd to ignore the fact the mined coal will be transported via a port adjacent to the reef, requiring five million tonnes of dredged spoil to be dumped within its marine park.

This week, however, Hunt has been admirably candid about the reef’s condition, and the threats that face it.

“The basic position I think is this; that what you see when you read the reports today is a mixture of pressure and progress, and the pressure is real. I don’t think we should understate that,” he told the ABC. He added that in the southern portion of the reef there were “some real negatives to be honest”.

Here are five findings in the GBRMPA assessment that will have been sober reading for Hunt, and others concerned about the reef’s future.

Sea temperature is on the rise

Climate change, which is causing the oceans to warm, is cited as the leading threat to the reef, followed by pollution running off the land into the sea, coastal development and direct impacts such as fishing.

The GBRMPA has dropped a prediction, used in its draft report, that the reef will not remain a “coral based system” with more than 1.5C of global warming. However, the trend remains a worrying one, given the report’s clear demonstration of rising sea surface temperatures in the Coral Sea since 1900.

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies for Coral Sea

Sea surface temperature anomalies for the Coral Sea, 1900–2013: This graph uses the 1961 to 1990 average as a baseline for depicting change. The hottest five-year running averages have all been in the last 15 years, with temperatures above the baseline in all those years. Source: Bureau of Meteorology


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