Rescuing reef won’t be easy
TRYING to save the Great Barrier Reef will be like turning around the Titanic, says Terry Hughes, a coral expert who sits on Federal and State Government scientific panels overseeing repair work.
He warned that emerging El Nino conditions this summer could cause further ocean warming which might lead to a big coral bleaching event like those that occurred in 1998 and 2002. This also could set repair work back.
Professor Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies director, said it was unrealistic to think that 200 years of damage would be repaired quickly, but state, federal and UNESCO actions had put Australia on the right path.
No matter what Australia did about water quality and other problems, climate change remained the Reef’s greatest threat.
“The elephant in the room is climate change,’’ Prof Hughes said.
University of Queensland Global Change Institute director Ove Hoegh- Guldberg said more work was needed to achieve targets set for reducing sediment and nutrient run- off.
If these could be solved, then the greatest short- term threat to the Reef would be averted.
This left climate change still to be dealt with.
“Let’s hope we get action out of the Abbott Government before it is too late for one of Australia’s great environmental assets,” he said.
Prof Hughes said Australia had no choice but to meet the targets set by the 2050 plan, otherwise the World Heritage area would end up on the UNESCO in danger list.
“The targets are very ambitious and it’s hard to see how they can be achieved without significant additional funding,” he said.
“The 80 per cent reduction target for nitrogen by 2025, that’s huge. It will be many years before we have detectable changes.”
Marine conservation planning expert Bob Pressey said of the 2050 plan: “We’ve got a plan that doesn’t have enough specifics and still allows coastal zone development to the detriment of the Reef. It will take a lot more effort than the Government has put in so far to arrest this.
He said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had done a good job in protecting the Reef but was crippled by cuts in federal funding which had forced out experienced staff.
MAMMOTH TASK: Marine biologist Terry Hughes.