A new website has been launched by the Queensland Government to provide information about the state of the Great Barrier Reef – but not everyone’s convinced it’s helping to keep the facts straight.
In an attempt to reduce misinformation about the health of the Great Barrier Reef and the proposed developments in that area the Queensland Government has launched new website ‘Reef Facts’, but environmental groups are concerned the site isn’t representing the truth about the reef’s health.
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell says the Newman Government is doing more to protect the reef than any other government has before.
“We are providing an open and transparent account of what is happening on the Great Barrier Reef because we believe Queenslanders deserve the truth,” he says. “For example, we know from 29 years of monitoring by the Australian Institute of Marine Science the main causes of coral loss have been storms and cyclones (48 per cent), crown of thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent), not dredging or shipping.
“Under the Newman Government the reef is in good hands, because we back science ahead of politics, and facts ahead of opinion and hysteria.”
Felicity Wishart from the Australian Marine Conservation Society is concerned the State Government is overlooking future dangers to reef health.
“It’s our view that they’re selectively citing pre-existing problems,” says Wishart. “The Australian Institute of Marine Science did a study over 27 years looking at the things that were causing immediate damage to the reef, particularly hard coral, and over that previous time frame it identified poor water quality (particularly agricultural run off) impacted the reef directly but also by creating algal blooms which increase crown of thorns starfish population.
“But it’s facing this new imminent threat which is, in our opinion, of an equivalent scale, where the government has planned for the construction of new or expansion of existing ports, millions and millions more tonnes of dredging and dumping, and increased shipping – all of which will absolutely increase the pressure on the reef.
“If the government was protecting the reef, they wouldn’t need a campaign to allay the public’s fears over dredging, dumping and port expansion.”
Powell says the information on the Reef Facts page is sourced from a range of reports and investigations from independent bodies such as CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
“We believe people deserve the truth and we are simply encouraging the public to make their own, informed judgements about the health of the reef,” he says. “It is disappointing that the groups who continue to make baseless, hysterical claims have now resorted to attacking the government for distributing the facts.”
In 2013 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee requested a long term plan for maintaining reef integrity, including better management of Gladstone Harbour, improvement of water quality, stringent guidelines for new developments and a limit on port development to ensure no new ports are established outside of existing areas.
“Last year, in response to that recommendation, the Newman Government released its draft port strategy that delivers exactly what UNESCO requested,” says Powell. “This strategy is publicly available and clearly states our intention to limit port development to existing port areas.”
But Wishart says the port strategy is all about ‘business as usual’.
“The Queensland Government is saying they’ve got a port strategy and they’re constraining port developments to existing port areas; it’s not strictly true,” she says. “As an example, at Abbot Point, while dredging will occur within the port, dumping will occur in the marine water park. The government’s Reef Facts website is silent on how far dumped dredge spoil can travel and how much damage it can do to seagrass and corals.
“Secondly, they say they’re not going to allow deep water dredging outside pre-exisitng port areas but they intend to allow dredging in Cairns, which is not one of the predetermined port areas – and then you end up with a debate about what’s ‘deep water’ dredging and what’s not ‘deep water’ dredging.”
Powell says the Cairns project is currently being assessed by the Coordinator-General but has not yet been given approval at this stage.
“This is simply more dramatic claims and more fear mongering which yet again has been found to have no factual basis,” he says.
Wishart is concerned about reef health and says not enough is being done to counteract climate change and improve water quality, which are the two biggest threats to the marine park.
“The reality is the reef is now in dire straits, it’s in poor health, it’s absolutely feeling the pressure,” she says. “The great thing about Australia is that people love the reef, they’re committed to the reef, and we believe that if the community joins together we can turn it around.”