People, Environment

Australia Failing to Save Great Barrier Reef

Australia Failing to Save Great Barrier ReefAustralia Failing to Save Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s attempts to curb damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which was almost listed as being in danger earlier this year, are falling well short of targets, a report released by the national and Queensland state governments on Monday said.

The progress report showed water quality in areas close to shore along the world’s largest coral reef remained poor due to nitrogen, pesticide and sediment runoff from farms, as well as from cyclones and floods, Reuters reported.

“If one of my kids came home with a report card like this, I’d be a bit disappointed. There’s more bad news in here than good news,” Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles told reporters at the Rivers Symposium in the Queensland state capital, Brisbane.

Improving water quality was one of the main goals in the Australian government’s “Reef 2050” long-term sustainability plan, which was central to persuading UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee not to blacklist the reef as “in danger” last July.

Miles said the rate of progress between 2013 and 2014 toward the state and federal governments’ water quality improvement targets had slowed dramatically.

However, there had been some recovery of coral and seagrass in one catchment area where discharges had dropped.

  Farmers in the Crosshairs

Australia has targeted farmers to try to change the way they use fertilizer and pesticides to curb runoff into coastal waters and limit damage to coral and seagrass.

“Being in the tropics with cyclones and the rest adds complexity, but we still need to do more,” said Roger Shaw, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Science Panel, who put the report together.

The grains industry was the only one achieving close to the best-practice targets so far, while ranchers were also making good progress. The sugarcane industry was the big laggard, according to the report.

Shaw said part of the problem with sugarcane was that the fertilizer is applied all at once. It can then be leached off if there is a cyclone or flood during the growing season.

Trials are being run to improve fertilizer coatings to help tackle the problem.