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  1. Part of the paradigm, I see. Patricia, have you read the reports? You say change is slow but is happening, but what it is about ‘if the coral decline continues at the same rate as between 2006 – 2012, there will be only 5% left by 2022′ that you don’t understand? The fate of the reef does not have time for baby-step incremental change – it needs an urgent, major paradigm shift in most of the population. You see, the Outlook Report of 2004 demonstrated that the catchments were causing by far the most damage (from beef and to a much lesser extent, sugar), so voluntary initiatives were put in place. As you rightly say, the uptake was poor – it was so poor that by the next Outlook Report of 2009, the water quality was continuing to decline markedly despite these initiatives, so some stronger laws were implemented as part of the ReefPlan. Over $400 million was earmarked for farmers, but most of course were not mandatory. .That was Garrett’s doing, to try to reverse the decline. But five years later and $400 million spent, the water quality is even worse!! There have been small change arounds, but the reef won’t survive small and slow, it needs BIG and NOW. A huge SHIFT in fact. The coral decline in the last 6 years is at a rate unheard of, and if it continues in this way – well, 5% isn’t much….and that’s with all the Reefplans and laws….
    Please tell me which laws and structural implements have been successful in averting the decline in water quality, death of most inshore reefs and sea grass smothering. The mining industry is troublesome, but not to the extent grazing is. No-one sensible doubts the threats of ocean acidification, but hey, livestock account for between 15-18% of greenhouse gas emissions too, which we conveniently forget as we tuck into steaks and sangas at BBQs. The second greatest threat after climate change is crap water, and at this point scientists are saying the coral can probably cop a bit of climate change (which is just as well, because that is an international problem requiring international solutions), but won’t cop climate change AND the crap water we are allowing drain from the catchments. That synergistic effect of the two is its death knell. High sedimentation and nutrient loads from the catchment is a *national* issue which we could implement without waiting for the rest of the world.
    The answer to your original postulation is that I don’t assist the degrading industries by putting lipstick on a pig, instead I remove myself from those industries (I grow lots of plants and trees all the same, but not to stabilise a creek bed ruined by some grazier’s carelessness, ignorance or indifference). Change is necessary, but like the threat of runaway climate change, the Reef does’t have time to wait for those inexcorably slow changes that we like to pat ourselves on the back with to say ‘at least we’ve done something’. That’s not enough. Now back to what I was saying, without a major paradigm shift, the reef is fucked.

    • hi Rebecca and Patricia, hope both are well.

      agree with so much you’re both saying, after 15 years of working to save the reef.

      the farmers are hurting the reef way more than the miners if you look at the past 50 years and perhaps the next 10. if there is any reef left by then, the miners coal will take over as biggest impact after that.. the unfortunate reality for the reef is that it is not just farming we need to fix but farming, fishing, coastal development and mining, and a heap of other things, but yes for me farming should be the first we fix, and despite those 15 years we have only taken the first important steps to do that properly

      in terms of the relative sources of water quality problems id suggest sugar is greater risk for coral, cattle greater risk to seagrass. both must be saved so it isnt one or the other. in terms of coral cover, yes nutrients is the big driver, but sugar nutrients more bioavailable during the 6 weeks the cots are in their floating larval algae eating form, and hence the cots initiation zone is downstream of the heaviest concentration of sugar farms. from this initiation zone they progressively munch southwards.

      if there had been no cots outbreak since the 80s we would have 20-30% more coral than we had then (fabricius, de’ath, sweatman, 2012 I think) .. and possibly three times what we have now.. that one stat pretty much puts the whole picture in perspective more than anything for me. it proves we should be doing far more as a movement on water quality than we are, even though panda has done a lot, we need to reframe and put much greater pressure on it in coming years

      where there is hope is cape York. even though there is some cattle, there is no sugar and almost no crops and so coral rates have stabilised above 30%. still not pristine, but orders of magnitude better than the cropped catchments. so if we as Rebecca suggests, get a massive change to farming – agree unlikely but the environment movement needs to recognise it and try a lot harder – then we might have the time to fix climate change – again unlikely but we have to try.

  2. Dear Rebecca,
    There are continuing multi-source actions by local and regional community groups who care about downstream impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. We hope you are involved in some of them in your local community. In the Whitsunday Mackay region besides the Reef Rescue water quality program which is largely funded by the Australian government with in-kind support from the Queensland government there is the work on restoration of riparian vegetation by the catchment groups. GBRMPA has established partnerships with schools and regional government councils to increase understanding of the need to protect the GBR from urban and agricultural sources and establish water quality improvement programs. The regional and state conservation councils with the scarcest of resources and in partnership with local groups and individuals work tirelessly to oppose inappropriate coastal developments and government legislation and policies that would damage the GBR. Much of the result of this work never see the light of day in the public media and can be buried in reports which is why you may not be aware of them. The Queensland government continues to approve coastal developments such as marine resort developments which involves fine silt from dredging and leakage for months from such developments into the GBR, as well as the dredging debacle on a large scale we saw at Gladstone.

    An oil shale company wanted to establish a shale and processing operation of 160,000 barrels of shale oil production a day over much of the Goorganga nationally listed wetlands south of Proserpine with acid emissions to drift out over the cane fields and tourism islands offshore for many decades. We finally achieved a 20 year moratorium on that project but not without a huge battle by the community and concerned scientists. These wetlands are hydrologically connected via their groundwater (wonky hole) flows to the Great Barrier Reef and it would have been impossible to prevent acid water flows from the mining activities to the Reef.

    With the help of a mangrove scientist we fought a long battle locally to address the flow of an herbicide diuron into mangroves where it stopped photosynthesis, killing large areas of mangroves in sugar cane catchments along the GBR coast. While not banned its application rates and use have been reduced significantly and mangroves have recovered.

    I have other examples, one of which is still in the Land Court after many years.

    While the Reef Rescue program has had some success its rate of progress is limited by lower than hoped for rates of uptake by farmers and graziers and the modest investments being made which are insufficient to make a major impact on sediment amounts flowing to the GBR.. But is is better than nothing.

    There is also a perverse incentive for uptake by those on the land because any significant investment they make in water quality improvement is threatened by mining. 85% of the state is covered with mining exploration permits and land owners have no legal right to prevent mining on their properties. Even the Queensland Nature Conservation Act allows mining of Nature Refuges, and as a result coal mining of the entire Bimblebox Nature Refuge, set aside itself to conserve protective vegetation cover is now approved by the Australian and Queensland governments even though both levels of government had nature refuge agreements with the landowners. Near Collinsville the Australian taxpayers paid half a million dollars in subsidies for a local grazier to fence off his land from cattle grazing along the Bowen River, a tributary of the Burdekin River to reduce the sediment load to the GBR. The grazier paid the other half million. He was doing well with improved yields from the cell grazing system he installed until a mining company received state government approval to place two large coal mines and another mining company place a rail line across the property greatly reducing the owner’s ability to run his operation.

    So you see there are many political and structural impediments to saving the GBR and those trying to tackle the needed changes face a hostile mining industry, political system and in general a lack of informed balanced media coverage.

    By far the greatest threat is acidification and rising ocean temperatures which are largely the result of burning coal. Australia is the largest seaborne exporter of coal so plays a role in these threats to the GBR.

    The challenge is to diversify economic activities within the GBR catchment to focus on developments which are in the public interest i.e. produce a sustainable living with a small environmental footprint so Australia meets its obligation to protect resources such as the GBR for future generations, and provide a moral guide and technological alternatives so other countries can do the same. I don’t see any environmental NGO at the local, state, national and international level not working with limited resources which is not trying its hardest to bring these needed changes about. The general public wants this as well as evidenced by the poor assessment of coal mining and government management of such mining given by respondents to the just released CSIRO survey results on the attitudes of coal communities. Change is necessary and it is slow but it is happening.