Reef improvements keep it off danger list

MELISSA GRANT
Last updated 20:32 12/06/2014
Great Barrier Reef
REUTERS
RECOVERING: While pollutants have reduced, the health of the Great Barrier Reef remains poor.

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Although the overall health of the Great  Barrier Reef is still poor, the federal government says recent  improvements in water quality should ensure it stays off UNESCO’s  in danger list.

The government’s report card for 2012/13 shows marine conditions  along the vast majority of coastline adjacent to the reef remain  poor despite reductions in key pollutants including sediments,  nitrogen and pesticides.

But Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is confident UNESCO  won’t list the reef as a world heritage site ‘‘in danger’’ because of  improvements to water quality from reduced agricultural run-off.

‘‘I don’t expect that will happen,’’ Mr Hunt told reporters in  Brisbane.

‘‘We are likely to be successful ... because the facts speak to  that.

‘‘The reef is now on the pathway to long-term improvement.’’

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell will take the  report to a meeting with UNESCO in Qatar this month.

Mr Powell is also confident the reef won’t be rated in danger,  but has conceded the overall health of the world icon needs  improvement.

‘‘The outlook in this report still suggests that it’s poor and  that is consistent with the fact we’ve had many decades now of  natural disasters, but also agricultural practices and run-off,’’ he  said.

But green and environmental groups aren’t convinced the report  card will sway the United Nation’s environment arm.

‘‘UNESCO won’t be fooled, they’re concerned specifically about  industrialisation of the reef,’’ Greens Senator Larissa Waters said.

‘‘Despite welcome gains in reducing agricultural runoff, the  reef’s inshore water quality remains poor, which will only get  worse with mass dredging and dumping planned for the reef’s  coastline.’’

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity  Wishart agreed dredging and dumping were ruining the reef.

‘‘You only have to look at the environmental disaster that has  occurred at Gladstone which experienced toxic turtles, sick fish  and a collapse of the fishing industry following dredging,’’ she  said.

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Mr Powell said industrialisation wasn’t an issue as the  government had ticked off on all of UNESCO’s requirements by  preparing a major port strategy and completing independent reviews  of Gladstone harbour.

The federal and state governments also signed a reef trust  agreement on Thursday, which Mr Hunt says will ensure the reef’s  long-term protection.

The first investments include $5 million for dugong and turtle  protection, $5 million to improve water quality from run-off and $2  million for crown-of-thorns starfish control.


- AAP

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