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Over 150 of Australia’s leading marine and coastal scientists today released a signed declaration stating that further industrialisation along the Great Barrier Reef coastline will destroy the already fragile ecosystem.
“The scientific evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is already suffering is crystal clear,” says Professor Hugh Possingham, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and a co-author of the declaration.
“The consensus now is that the reef simply won’t cope with the scale of development our governments are allowing to go ahead under the current scenario.”
The statement represents the united perspective of scientists from 33 Australian institutions including the University of Queensland, James Cook University and the University of Western Australia.
Possingham told Green Lifestyle magazine that “alarm bells” have been ringing in the scientific community since reports last year revealed the significant decline in coral over the Great Barrier Reef.
The release of today's document reflects the concern of the scientific community about the environmental impact of proposed coastal port development and increases in shipping and dredging in areas surrounding the reef. It asks the government to cease construction, encouraging companies to better utilise existing facilities, and to improve and regulate shipping to stop further damage to the reef.
The delicate situation of the Great Barrier Reef led Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne to announce on Monday that her party would take an active stance against new policies regarding offshore dumping and dredging in these waters, with a call for dredge spoil to be disposed of on land.
Ranee Crosby, the Port of Townsville acting chief executive, told the Townsville Bulletin that the Greens’ policy is "completely impractical", claiming that ports need to dredge. She says there are “national guidelines for the placement of material at sea, it has to be clean material... it's natural sediment... [and] anything that is contaminated material has to go to shore and be treated”.
A report conducted by Abbot Point Port suggests that “impacts to marine water quality as a result of dredging... are likely to be small and temporary in nature”. However, Possingham said that although dredge spoil is just mud, it can remain suspended in the water for a long time and has a “very big and repeated negative impact on corals and seagrass”.
“What the Australian public don’t know is how much of the threat comes from sediments,” said Possingham. “Sediments are stirred up by dredging and dumping of dredge spoil.” He said that the positive outcome of the government’s $200 million reef rescue package was likely to be negated if dredging continues.
“The science is being ignored and there has been an obvious disregard for very likely effects of large-scale dredging on coastal habitats including coral reefs and iconic wildlife such as turtles and dugongs,” he said.
A main point of contention in the declaration is the use of independent peer-reviewed research to monitor and manage the environmental impact of industry on the Great Barrier Reef.
Though the World Heritage Committee’s decision to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef to a ‘heritage site in danger’ has been postponed until next year, scientists want the document to highlight to the government and the Committee their concern about the current management of the Great Barrier Reef coastline.
“The reef is important to millions of people. Given the rate of decline we need to work out ways of reducing environmental impacts. The Australian public should have some clear options, otherwise port expansion and industrialisation will be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Possingham.
The declaration can be seen in full on the Fight for the Reef campaign page. Community action organisation Get Up! has a petition to halt industrial development on the Great Barrier Reef that you can sign, which has garnered close to 130,000 signatures already.