By Tony Moore
An urgently revised plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef has been bought forward following evidence of damage from the back-to-back coral bleaching incidents in 2016 and 2017.
The Australian and Queensland governments have on Friday released the 2018 mid-term review of their long-term 2050 Reef Plan, after studies in 2017 confirmed serious damage to the reef from climate change.
Great Barrier Reef coral of Port Douglas in 2017.
Photo: Dean Legacy
“The unprecedented instance of back-to-back mass bleaching events shows that climate change is already having impacts on the reef and clearly underlines the importance of urgent action to build the Reef’s resilience and maintain its functionality,” the report says.
“Consecutive coral bleaching events and the impact of other stressors have fundamentally changed the character of the Reef. Coral bleaching is projected to increase in frequency. As corals are relatively slow growing they will have too little time to recover between events or to evolve genetically.”
The report identifies four climate change trajectories to try to keep ocean temperature warming below 2 degrees to prevent coral bleaching.
The timeline: Why has this report been bought forward?
• 2015 – The Australian and Queensland governments released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan
• 2016 – There were major problems with coral bleaching on areas of the Great Barrier Reef
• 2017 – There were more coral-bleaching incidents happened along the Great Barrier Reef. Coral bleaching is linked to ocean warming
• March-April 2017 – There was extra damage was caused by Cyclone Debbie
• September 2017 and May 2018 – Surveys showed “sustained significant coral loss due to coral bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish”
• July 2018 – The Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum decided to bring forward a revised Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan
What has changed in policy and direction in this new report?
There is a stronger focus on climate change in the revised report.
1. New climate adaptation actions have been added. A new policy is developing a Reef Resilience Network and working on localised restoration activities to build up this network.
2. Research will begin on climate change trajectories to judge their impact on the Great Barrier Reef. These climate change trajectories will be reviewed in 2020 in the first comprehensive review of the revised plan.
3. Water quality targets have been updated.
What is the big issue?
Water temperature increases around the Great Barrier Reef need to be kept below an increase of 1.5 degrees, according to peer-reviewed scientists, to reduce the frequency of coral bleaching, the report says.
A concerted “international effort” is required.
What are some of the key projects under way now?
This three-page table shows $600 million worth of fertilizer and sediment control projects now underway, funded by the Australian and Queensland governments.
Most of them are directed to cane farmers, banana farmers and graziers.
It includes $8.5 million for two sediment-erosion control and restoration projects run by Greening Australia to stop silt flowing down rivers and on to the reef.
Sediment flowing down the Burdekin River towards Upstart Bay near Bowen.
Photo: Tony Moore
Where is the money coming from?
The Australian government put in $500 million in the 2018-19 Budget.
The Queensland government put in $500 million to a Land Restoration Fund in its 2018-19 Budget.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has $1 billion available “on a commercial basis” for clean energy projects close to the reef.
By December 2017 it has invested $345 million to more than 280 projects including seven utility scale solar farms in central and north Queensland.
Earlier funding promises
In 2016, $1.28 billion was committed to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
That included $716 million from the Australian Government, $409 million from the Queensland government and $161 million from other sources.
What does the Great Barrier Reef contribute to the economy?
1 Over two million visitors each year
2 64,000 jobs
3 Generates economic activity of $6.4 billion each year, largely through tourism
4 It is a “maze” of 1050 islands and 3000 reefs stretching 2300 kilometres along the Queensland coast
How will results be checked?
There are annual reports to Queensland and Australian environment ministers and updated in five-year Outlook Reports, independently monitored by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The first major review will be in 2020 before UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee reviews the health of the Great Barrier Reef in 2020.
The Great Barrier Reef has been a UNESCO protected site since 1981.
What do observers say about the revised reef plan?
Climate Council – Acting chief executive Dr Martin Rice said the revised plan failed to acknowledge Australia’s weak greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets and instead relied heavily on $500 million dollars to improve water quality and eradicate the crown-of-thorn starfish to protect the Reef.
World Wildlife Fund Australia – WWF’s Oceans campaigner Richard Leck said the plan showed more effort was needed to keep ocean warming to below 2 degrees centigrade.
He also questioned why farmers were not updating their practices to stop fertiliser run-off.
Press link for more: Brisbane Times