Plan to protect Great Barrier Reef inadequate: Scientists

Scientists have criticized the Australian government's multi-million dollar Great Barrier Reef protection plan, claiming it ignores the threat of climate change.

IANS| Updated: Oct 28, 2014, 11:21 AM IST
Plan to protect Great Barrier Reef inadequate: Scientists

Canberra: Scientists have criticized the Australian government's multi-million dollar Great Barrier Reef protection plan, claiming it ignores the threat of climate change.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) was asked to produce a response to the federal government's 'Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan' and delivered its verdict Tuesday morning.

Its report suggested that although climate change represented the Great Barrier Reef's biggest threat, the protection plan did not address the matter as a realistic threat to the reef's long-term health, Xinhua reported.

It also criticised a distinct lack of funding towards any restoration of the reef, while ignoring issues such as poor water quality, coastal development and illegal fishing in the area.

Terry Hughes, the director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, backed the AAS report, telling media that not enough was being done to protect the reef.

"There's nothing in the plan on addressing climate change," Hughes told The Guardian.

"The science is quite clear that you can't keep the Great Barrier Reef in good condition if you're going to develop huge coal reserves. We are already on our way to 2C warming and unless Australia cuts back on carbon dioxide emissions, we won't have much of a Great Barrier Reef left."

Only $35 million was allocated to the 'Reef Trust Programme' in Australia's latest federal budget, earning the government even more criticism from scientific responses.

As a result, threats such as the dumping of dredged seabed spoil into the waters were ignored, which could lead to the serious damage of the types of environment both coral and fish survive in.

Hughes therefore believes the government's 'Reef 2050 Plan' has been implemented to stave off Unesco's World Heritage Committee from placing the Great Barrier Reef on its 'in-danger' list.

"There's no doubt the short-term goal of this report is to keep Unesco happy," Hughes said. "I'm not sure that it will succeed or not, but in terms of this being a plan for the next 35 years, there are missing targets that need to be in there.

"It would be a terrible outcome if the Great Barrier Reef is placed on the in-danger list; it would be very damaging to Australia's reputation. I haven't met anyone who wants that to be the case, but I wouldn't be surprised if Unesco went ahead and did it."

However, Australia's federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, believes the government is doing its utmost to ensure the long-term safety of the Great Barrier Reef.

"We have a clear plan and a strong commitment to ensure the reef is healthy and resilient and we are making strong progress," Hunt said.

"The Great Barrier Reef remains an incredibly diverse and rich marine environment. We know the reef still retains the values for which it was listed as world heritage."