Con­flict­ing in­ter­ests

Sci­ence, tourism clash on Great Bar­rier Reef

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

Arow is rag­ing over Aus­tralia’s warm­ing-dam­aged Great Bar­rier Reef, with firms wor­ried that sci­en­tists’ apoca­lyp­tic warn­ings are scar­ing vis­i­tors out of the wa­ter.

Ev­ery year, more than 2 mil­lion snorkel-wield­ing tourists head to Aus­tralia’s famed coral ecosys­tem, gen­er­at­ing rev­enues of $4.3 bil­lion and sup­port­ing 64,000 lo­cal jobs.

But dam­age done by higher tem­per­a­tures – which turn patches of the reef ashen white – has threat­ened to put a break on the num­ber of tourists will­ing to wres­tle their way into a wet­suit.

There was sur­prise then, when the Reef and Rain­for­est Re­search Cen­tre re­cently pub­lished a markedly more op­ti­mistic re­port, herald­ing “sig­nif­i­cant signs of re­cov­ery” at ma­jor dive sites around Cairns and prompt­ing a flurry of up­beat news cov­er­age. If the re­port’s find­ings seemed out of kil­ter with other stud­ies about the reef, that was by de­sign. It was part of an ef­fort to show that not all of the Great Bar­rier Reef is an aquatic waste­land, ac­cord­ing to Col McKen­zie of tourism in­dus­try lobby group AMPTO, which helped carry out the re­search. “Over­all, are we see­ing a drop in visi­ta­tion be­cause of the neg­a­tive press, ab­so­lutely we are, there’s no doubt about that,” McKen­zie told AFP He sug­gested vis­i­tor num­bers to the reef and nearby is­lands had dropped by 10 per­cent in 2017 and were on track to plunge by a fur­ther 15 per­cent this year.

Al­though gov­ern­ment data shows that the num­ber of vis­i­tors to the broader re­gion has ac­tu­ally in­creased, those fig­ures are older and don’t in­clude coral-view­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

McKen­zie said it was vi­tal to get the mes­sage out that some ar­eas of the mas­sive ecosys­tem are still teem­ing with color and life.

“What peo­ple miss with our reef sys­tem is... it’s a mas­sive struc­ture,” he said.

His com­ments are the lat­est salvo in a bat­tle be­tween ecol­o­gists and the tourism in­dus­try, as they strug­gle to come to terms with com­pet­ing in­ter­ests and new re­al­i­ties on the reef.

Pro­fes­sor Terry Hughes of James Cook Univer­sity, who

leads the sur­veys of bleached corals cau­tioned that while some dam­aged coral re­gain their color within sev­eral months, more badly dam­aged reefs can “It’s take very a decade early days to re­cover. yet,” he told AFP, de­scrib­ing a patchy re­cov­ery that makes gen­er­al­iza­tions dif­fi­cult.

“Ba­si­cally we are in year one in the mid­dle of the reef, or year two in the north­ern reefs, in the decade-long process of re­cov­ery.”

The gov­ern­ment’s Aus­tralian In sti­tute of Marine Sci­ence says coral cover has “con­tin­ued to de­cline due to the cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts of mul­ti­ple, se­vere dis­tur­bances over the past four years.'

The same in­sti­tute showed that apart from the risk of ex­treme sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures – with some ar­eas more af­fected, the reef is also grap­pling with the im­pacts of farm­ing

run-off, devel­op­ment and se­vere

trop­i­cal cy­clones.

A di­vided coun­try

Even within gov­ern­ment there are con­flict­ing in­ter­ests at play, as well as rolling de­bates about how best to re­spond.

Can­berra has – so far suc­cess­fully – urged UNESCO to hold off list­ing the reef as an en­dan­gered World Her­itage site, fear­ing it would have an ad­verse eco­nomic im­pact and lead to tougher re­stric­tions on lo­cal in­dus­try.

It has al­lo­cated some $1.4 bil­lion to pro­tect the site, but at the same time backed a huge coal pro­ject nearby by In­dian min­ing giant Adani and moved away from leg­is­lat­ing cli­mate tar­gets un­der the Paris Ac­cord.

A par­lia­men­tary in­quiry was re­cently set up to in­ves­ti­gate why for­mer prime min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull gave nearly half a bil­lion dollars to a small busi­ness-backed reef char­ity with­out a com­pet­i­tive ten­der process.

Aus­tralians also ap­pear di­vided on dam­age done to the reef.

Only half of the coun­try thinks that cli­mate change is al­ready caus­ing the de­struc­tion of reef, ac­cord­ing to an an­nual Ip­sos poll on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

Which­ever way the po­lit­i­cal winds blow, sci­en­tists like Hughes are de­ter­mined to doc­u­ment changes to one of the world’s most bio­di­verse re­gions. But that re­mains a mov­ing tar­get. “It’s a crit­i­cal re­cov­ery pe­riod,” Hughes said.

“The un­known, of course, is whether we’ll get an­other bleach­ing event, which po­ten­tially could come as soon as early next year if we get a heat wave.”

Photo: VCG

A man snorkels in an area called the “Coral Gar­dens” near Lady El­liot Is­land on the Great Bar­rier Reef in Queens­land, Aus­tralia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.