The Great Barrier Reef Open For Dirty Business

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive reef ecosystem in the world, holds 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays, 150 inshore mangrove islands, and an abundance of marine life from seagrasses and sponges to tropical fish, turtles, dugongs, rays, sharks and whales. It stretches from the Northern Tip of Queensland in Australia, reaching down to a town called Bundaberg.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981, to be protected under the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act. The EPBC Act prohibits a person from taking an action, without approval from the environment minister if the action is likely to have a significant impact on a ‘matter of national environmental significance’. However, the current Australian Federal Government, Prime Minister Tony Abbot and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, along with the Queensland State Government, lead by Campbell Newman, have ignored latest scientific evidence, compiled by scientists and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority, that states the reef is deteriorating from human intervention and climate change. Rather than looking at ways to minimize further damage and restore the marine park, the Australian Government have plans for massive coal and gas port expansions. This fossil fuel facility includes additional industrial shipping paths through these waters, creating excessive noise and traffic to a marine habitats and the necessity to dredge the sea for these pathways. The companies involved claim it is cheaper to dump millions of tonnes of sediment offshore into the reefs world heritage waters, rather than inshore.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and various scientific groups involved in the protection of the reef have submitted to the government that the Great Barrier Reef faces enormous pressures already from multiple sources related to climate change that is causing coral bleaching, cyclones, declining water quality from agricultural run offs and the outbreaks of the Crown of Thorns starfish, and that expanding coal exports in this area to overseas investors will cripple the park. In response the Queensland Resources Council argue they have to supply for a demand, and that demand is the worlds energy. They are drawn to the lucrativeness of coal and a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Concerns at Barrier Reef contractor’s humanitarian , environment record, Sept 5, 2014) has said that an Indian billionaire businessman, Gautam Adani, has lavished gifts on Australian politicians while his plans are being decided. It is also reported that Gina Rinehart has interests in expanding the coal port.

If our Government has mentioned that science is significant in their decision making, why have our scientists had drastic cuts made to their budgets under the Abbot government. For instance, the Australian Institute of Marine Science has had an 8 million dollar cut to its budget, making their capacity to work on this matter, very limited.

The government has also cut 129 staff from the Environment Department, which enforces strict environmental rules on areas such as the Great Barrier Reef marine park. The Australian government has also cut 40 million from the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, a group that look at the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef from catchment areas.

Documents released under the freedom of information laws have uncovered that the funding cuts to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority have put pressure on staff to become redundant, resulting in less scientific expertise. There are also suggestions of the possibility of board members with links to the mining industry. A document released by the Greens suggests a non Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority trained bureaucrat approved the offshore dumping.

The science of the reef is being politicized by a government accepting bribes in favour of our natural world and its future survival.

Evidence from scientists and concern from the general public about the pressure the reef is under, seems to have no significance to the State and Federal governments, the Ports and Industry groups, the mining companies and coastal developers, who have mentioned they are committed to the environment, yet are increasing their industries within it.

However, the Australian Greens are opposing the Federal and Queensland government, and have the support of not only a growing amount of people in the Queensland community, but also fishers, tourist operators, reef scientists and the UN World Heritage Committee. This renewed support has come about from a recent disaster with a Coal Seam Gas facility in the Gladstone Harbour area, where dredging and dumping from the coal facility brought sedimentation, turbidity, noise and disruption of fish habitats. The facility caused mass dolphin, turtle and dugong deaths, mutilated fish, and crippled the fishing and tourism industry. The poor management of this facility has apparently not been independently investigated and the Australian Greens have set up an inquiry into it.

I believe our government is not only irresponsible and motivated by money, but truly, insane. Our reef is a beautiful natural wonder of the world, and should not be flippantly passed off as a rubbish dump to foreign investors. Financial gain and convenience in a heritage site is a disgrace and the business of coal over an environment that is not replaceable is criminal.



Harriet Jones

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