This report covers the good news from the Australian Institute of Marine Science Reports on the condition of hard coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and the World Heritage Committee’s decision not to list the Reef as ‘in danger’. However, the forecasted increasing frequency and spatial extent of bleaching events remains a concern.
Also, reported on are the steps made to eradicate the need for single-use plastics by using biodegradable and biocompatible material made entirely from plant protein to replace synthetic materials and polymers currently used in the manufacture of plastic. The Government has also announced initiatives to reduce landfill and to lift recycling capacity.
Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): SDGs 13,14
Condition of the GBR: Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)’ Annual Summary Report on Coral Reef Condition for 2021/221 recorded, in the 87 representative reefs surveyed, the northern and central GBR had their highest amount of coral cover since AIMS began monitoring 36 years ago. However, average coral cover in the southern region decreased from 38% in 2021 to 34%, due to ongoing crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. AIM’s 2022/23 report2 using surveys of 111 representative reefs conducted between August 2022 and May 2023 showed: –
- the average hard coral cover in AIMS’s three regions decreased slightly but within 95% credible limits; However, hard coral cover on individual reefs was highly variable mostly between 10% and 50%.
- there were minimal other stressors, i.e. no severe cyclones impacting the GBR in 22/23. However, the 2022 mass bleaching event, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, coral disease and Tropical Cyclone Tiffany in January 2022, are considered to have paused the recovery of hard coral cover on many reefs.
- While most coral reefs of the GBR have demonstrated resilience in the absence of acute disturbances, the increasing frequency and spatial extent of bleaching events forecasted remains a concern along with the persistent threat of crown-of-thorns starfish.
World Heritage Committee Decision: Following the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recognising that Australia was making significant progress putting the GBR on a stronger and more sustainable path, addressing climate change, water quality, and sustainable fishing, the World Heritage Committee decided not to list the GBR as ‘in danger’3.
As reported in the NCWQ Environment March 2023 Report, the Australian Government (AG) has committed to a net Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction target of 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050,
GBR Water Quality: The Queensland Government (QG) is investing $6 million through the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program in three projects in the Burdekin, Herbert River and Fitzroy River catchments to repair and remediate streambanks along rivers and waterways. Supplementing this reduction of the amount of sediment entering the Reef ecosystem, the AG is co-investing a further $6.4 million in three new water quality projects in the Mackay-Whitsunday, Burnett Mary and Burdekin catchments in northeast Queensland4.
Sustainable Fishing: The AG and QG are allocating over $160 million to implementing reforms to protect the reef and precious threatened species by significantly reducing net fishing and other high risk fishing activities impacting the Reef, including ensuring the GBR is gillnet free by mid-20275.
Living Coral Biobank: An independent not-for-profit organisation (the Great Barrier Reef
Legacy) aims to preserve coral biodiversity indefinitely by collecting, housing and maintaining all 800 known hard coral species, their algal and bacterial symbionts from around the world in a Living Coral Biobank at Port Douglas6.
Update on Plastics: SDGs 12,15
The environmental problems and extent of plastic pollution and possible actions to alleviate the problems have been reported in several previous NCWQ Environment Reports e.g. May2022, so only recent developments are documented here.
Plastic from Biomass: UK University of Cambridge spin-off startup company, Xampla, has used plant based proteins and other natural biopolymers to make flexible films , coatings and microcapsules. Xampla claims their products could7,8,9:-
- provide protection and extend the shelf-life of ingredients and products;
- completely degrade in soil within 28 days;
- be produced using existing manufacturing equipment;
- be used
Replacing synthetic materials and polymers used by industry could eradicate the need for single-use plastics7,8,9.
Government Initiatives -Reducing landfill and lifting recycling capacity10: – To help build the circular economy, the AQ and QG are funding six new recycling projects (Gold Coast, Logan, Toowoomba, Brisbane and Rockhampton) to sort, process and transform waste plastics, paper, cardboard and glass into new products for use in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and sustainable food-packaging. e.g. IQ Renew, Toowoomba has been awarded $3,200,000 for a new plastics recycling facility that will process hard and soft plastic waste and turn it into fence posts, pipe resin and other plastic aggregate replacement products.
- AIMS’ Annual Summary Report on Coral Reef Condition for 2021/22, August 22
- AIMS’ Annual Summary Report on Coral Reef Condition for 2022/23, August 23
- https://vegconomist.com/materials/xampla-edible-biodegradable-plant-protein-packaging/August 2, 2023
– Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser