15 September 2014
By Amy Remeikis
(Brisbane Times) – It's the 35-year plan designed to stave off UNESCO's "in danger" rating and save the reef, but conservationists are already doubting it will work.
Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell announced the Reef 2050 plan on Monday while the government was in Yeppoon for community cabinet.
The plan, which is open to public consultation until October 27, is a joint federal and Queensland government project that aims to address all threats to the reef, and comes just days after the government announced it would not allow offshore dredge spoil dumping as part of the Abbot Point port expansion.
It is designed to address UNESCO concerns about the reef's declining health after the United Nations agency in June threatened to list the reef as "in danger" and Mr Powell defended the government's decisions regarding the reef by saying UNESCO had been "misinformed".
The government has not backed down over its reef management, but Mr Powell said its 2050 plan took in all elements threatening the reef – not just the port.
The Reef 2050 plan sets out a series of proposals, including greater protections for marine life such as dugongs and turtles and improving water quality by reducing the amount of pesticides that wash into some areas of the reef by at least 60 per cent.
But on the subject of the dumping of dredge spoil, the plan stops short of recommending limits on existing port activities.
Instead, it suggests dredging be banned in the World Heritage area and adjoining areas for new port developments, or for any ports looking to expand.
"It does address port development and it does address the work we have been doing as the Queensland government around ensuring big developments like Abbot Point are done sensibly and environmentally responsibly," Mr Powell told Fairfax Radio 4BC.
"But to focus only on ports would really do a disservice to the reef and what the plan does is look at the key causes of decline – that is water quality, but more so it is the water quality coming down from the catchments adjacent to the reef, each and every year.
"It focuses our attention on ensuring the sediment, the nutrient nitrogen that goes out to the reef, that feeds the crown of thorn starfish and the like are really reined in." […]
Australian Marine Conservation Society's Felicity Wishart said the plan was "too little" and likely "too late".
"If the reef were a sinking ship it feels like they are trying to bail it out with a thimble," she said."And the plan admits it is doing nothing to address the biggest long term threat to the reef, namely climate change which leads to sea level rise, warmer water, more acidic water and more storms, all bad news for the reef." [more]