Call for $300m to clean up reef

At least $300 million needs to be spent urgently to clean up millions of tonnes of mud and chemical pollution pouring into the Great Barrier Reef every year, to boost the reef’s immunity to climate change, according to a new report from WWF.

The Federal Government had to act now to give the reef its best chance of avoiding future degradation, the environment group said.

Its assessment comes before the release of a federal report widely believed to show a dramatic increase in pollution levels in Queensland rivers and creeks feeding into the reef.

Reefs worldwide are under threat. A University of North Carolina study published on Wednesday said large-scale degradation of the world’s coral reefs was much worse than previously thought. Over the past two decades, coral had disappeared at five times the rate of the planet’s rainforests, it said.

WWF said more than 90 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef’s pollution came from soil, hazardous chemicals and pesticides washing off farms and sugarcane plantations.

“We are creating a milkshake in the reef that is feeding the larvae of crown-of-thorns starfish,” said Nick Heath, of WWF-Australia.

A reef protection plan signed by the Federal and Queensland governments four years ago had helped identify where the pollution was coming from – soil erosion along riverbanks because of too many cattle being run on properties, and excessive amounts of fertiliser being used by cane farmers, Mr Heath said.

Now the Government needed to invest in programs that would accelerate the take-up of world’s-best farming practice in those catchments along the reef that were carrying the most pollution offshore.

The North Carolina report prompted the Opposition’s environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, to say on Wednesday that a Labor government would fast-track a climate change adaptation plan for the reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is our greatest natural asset but the failure of the Howard Government to introduce a comprehensive climate change plan is compounding its risk of extinction,” he said.

“The reef contributes nearly $6 billion to the economy and sustains 63,000 jobs. The Queensland economy will be permanently damaged if we fail to deliver comprehensive climate change solutions that secure the reef’s future.”

Last month the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced an initiative that involved the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority working closely with local councils in the reef’s catchment area to protect wetlands and improve urban stormwater quality.

Yesterday his office said a 2006 annual report from the authority on water quality monitoring would be released soon but provided no details of its contents.

It is believed the months-old report shows up to 80 per cent of the rivers and creeks in the reef’s catchment have breached federal guidelines on run-off and pollution.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald