The World Heritage Committee currently has the Australian Government on tenterhooks as to whether it will list the reef as a World Heritage site “in danger” at its next meeting early next year.
The World Heritage Committee currently has the Australian Government on tenterhooks as to whether it will list the reef as a World Heritage site “in danger” at its next meeting early next year. AP Photo - Queensland Tourism

"Aspirational" reef plan met with skepticism over resourcing

THE overarching plan to reverse the decline of the Great Barrier Reef by 2050 has been met with scepticism from environmental groups concerned not enough resources are being thrown at the reef's problems.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Monday released the joint federal-state Reef 2050 plan, setting "aspirational" targets to improve water quality and address the impact of climate change on the reef.

It also again highlighted the impacts of sediment run-off and coastal development including port expansions and dredging on the reef's health, particularly in the southern region from Cooktown to Bundaberg.

Mr Hunt said the plan set out targets and actions to protect the reef, while his state counterpart Andrew Powell said it was "another illustration of meeting UNESCO's requirements".

The World Heritage Committee currently has the Australian Government on tenterhooks as to whether it will list the reef as a World Heritage site "in danger" at its next meeting early next year.

Under the new plan, both governments aim to reduce nitrogen loads running into reef waters by 50% and pesticides by 60% by 2050, despite only limited success from such programs to date.

It has also effectively promised that no new dredging projects will be approved in the reef's World Heritage Area - larger than the marine park - for the next 10 years.

The plan was put together with consultations with the ports industry, agricultural groups, tourism and environmental groups.

But environmentalists remain concerned that the plan still does not do enough to achieve the long promised "halt and reverse" of the reef's decline.

Australian Marine Conservation Society reef campaign director Felicity Wishart said the proposed solutions were "not bold enough, not fast enough and the level of funding is simply not big enough".

"There are no plans to protect Cape York Peninsula, the most pristine section of the Reef and rule out port development plans near Princess Charlotte Bay," she said.

"It has not reversed the weakening of state environmental laws such as land clearing laws and it allows the hand-over of federal approval powers."

While Ms Wishart welcomed a pledge in the plan to rule out port development in Keppel Bay, the Fitzroy Delta and north Curtis Island, she said there was no specific timeframe to the plan.

However, the mining industry said the plan had identified the "vital steps" to turn around the reef's health.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the resources sector "and its partner the ports sector" had committed to address water quality monitoring, dredging management strategies and using ship crews that were "independently vetted for their quality".

The plan is now out for public consultation for six weeks until late October. - APN NEWSDESK


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