A report released yesterday by the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh showed that water quality on the Great Barrier Reef is not improving, and that further action is needed to reverse the ongoing decline. As part of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan initiated by the Australian and Queensland governments, the 2007 Water Quality Report is the first step in a four year process, addressing water quality issues such as catchment pressures, marine ecosystem health and land management practices affecting the Queensland coastline and Great Barrier Reef.

Some of the key findings of the report seem to confirm what scientists have previously observed: that over the last 150 years, the catchments adjacent to inshore reefs have been extensively modified for agriculture (e.g. sugar cane), cattle and sheep grazing, tourism, mining and urban development, leading to significant increased in sediments, nutrients and pesticides impacting upon the inshore Great Barrier Reef. From the report, monitoring of priority catchments has shown that:

  • 6.6 million tonnes of sediment are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (four times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)
  • 16,600 tonnes of nitrogen are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (five times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)
  • 4,180 tonnes of phosphorous are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (four times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)

In response to the report, Premier Bligh called for a summit on reef water-quality issues in the next month:

“Work done to date as part of the Plan includes financial incentives to help farmers improve land management practices and targeting diffuse pollution from broadscale land use,”

“However, since 2003 many external factors have deteriorated including the effects of climate change, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.

“It has increased the urgency for more work to be done.

“I have discussed this matter with the Prime Minister and met with Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

“We agreed that the first step will be a joint Commonwealth-state reef water quality summit at Parliament House at the end of this month,” she said.

“The summit will bring together the best minds from the environmental and scientific fields to study the latest data and discuss what urgent action we need to take to prevent further damage to – or worse – the complete demise of the reef.” (Link to Media Statement)

The Environment Minister Peter Garrett also acknowledges the issue:

“We’ve specifically committed $200 million to reef rescue knowing that we need to provide additional resources, additional investment, and additional effort to safeguard what is one of our most important national and international natural resources and treasures” (Link)

I look forward to the proposed summit and applaud the Queensland government for taking such forward action in addressing water quality issues – it seems for Peter Garrett (pictured above left in typical Midnight Oil attire) there is no excuse!

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