NCWQ Environment Report: February 2022

NCWQ Environment Report February 2022

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Environment Summary

In this report, the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef are discussed together with various measures which are addressing or could address real and potential risks. Issues discussed include climate change, reef restoration measures, water quality, and control of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.


Update on Great Barrier Reef

At its 44th session the World Heritage Committee (WHC) accepted the Australian Government (AG)’s position that UNESCO had sought an immediate ‘In Danger Listing’ of the Great Barrier Reef without appropriate consultation, without a site visit and without all the latest information. In response to the WHC, the AG provided on 1 February 2022 a comprehensive overview of new information relating to the health and resilience of the Reef, new investments, and actions and measures taken since the release of the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 for examination at WHC’s next session, Kazan, Russian Federation 19-30 June 2022.

Since the WHC July2021 Session, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have shown that without major disturbances from cyclones, coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, coral reefs can recover as measured by hard coral cover.  But that the composition of coral species can change.  However, if the frequency and severity of disturbances increases, as expected from climate change, recovery could be more difficult

Long-Term Monitoring Program Annual Summary Report of Coral Reef Condition 2020/2021

On 20 December 2021 the AG and Queensland government (QG)s released an updated Reef 2050 Plan to further address the highest risks to the Reef – climate change, land-based run-off, coastal development and aspects of human use of the Reef. The AG committed an additional $1 billion to fund the Plan’s implementation through to 2030. This was in addition to the $3 billion AG and QG investment. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan). Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan 2021–2025 In Brief, Commonwealth of Australia 2021.


Risk to Great Barrier Reef from Climate Change

As Australia only emits 1.16% of world CO2 emissions, Australia’s efforts to reduce its own emissions have virtually no impact on the long-term health and resilience of the Reef. However, China and India, importers of Australian coal are massive contributors of CO2 emissions (29.18%, 7.09% respectively) and climate change. If Australia were to stop exporting to these countries without supplying an alternative energy source these countries could source poorer grade coal elsewhere increasing their emissions as well as causing serious economical, employment, and social problems in Australia.

Australia’s coal exports, by destination

Australia’s coal exports, by destination

Hydrogen as an energy source and the possibility of a Hydrogen industry was discussed in my NCWQ November 2021 Environment Report.  As noted in that report, partnerships with Japan (3.47% CO2 emissions), Singapore (0.14%) and Germany (2.17%) are aiming to attract investment, build supply chains, and advance research and technology. As shown in the above graph Japan is a major importer of Australia’s coal. The AG is investing $1.2 billion into building a hydrogen industry and $566 million is allocated to these strategic international partnerships. Perhaps the possibilities of partnerships with India (7.09%), South Korea(1.69%) and Taiwan(0.77%) could be explored!


Australia has an abundance of natural resources to make clean energy, hence should be in a good position to export hydrogen to other countries to help satisfy their needs as well as local energy needs.


The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program

The AG has committed a further $92.7 million to an initial $150 million grant to extend the program until 2030, seeking to enhance natural adaption and resilience to climate change and significantly fast track regeneration and restoration of coral cover lost through previous extreme weather events. The 2021 coral spawning event saw critical scaling milestones reached with 10 million coral larvae delivered via coral IVF across 4 reef locations, and juvenile colonies planted in 2016 spawning for the first time. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.


Reef water quality

Pollutants in land-based run-off are a major threat to water quality of the GBR and particularly inshore marine ecosystems and consequently to the long-term health and resilience of the GBR.  This issue was reported in my NCWQ May 2021 Environment Report together with some of the projects funded under the Reef Trust Partnership, aimed at improving the quality of water entering the GBR through activities such as improved farming practices, reduced fertiliser use and update of new technology. A further $579.9 million has been allocated towards measures such as gully remediation and improvements in agricultural practices.;; Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.


Control of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) is essential for the reefs to recover from tropical cyclones and coral bleaching events. Targeted control of COTS is providing an effective, scalable, cost-efficient means of suppressing outbreaks and protecting coral across entire reefs and at regional scales.  The AG has allocated a further $252.9 million to continue these efforts Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.


Community and Traditional Owner-led partnership projects Traditional Owners and community members contribute to the protection and the heritage values (natural, historical, and indigenous). For example, seagrass meadows are critically important habitats for a variety of species, the primary food source for dugongs and turtles, and a major carbon sink. A Traditional Owner and community managed local seagrass nursery is supporting a seagrass restoration demonstration site in the Whitsundays.  Traditional Owners are co-managing some areas where dugongs feed or northern green turtles nest and forage in their sea country. The AG has allocated $74.4 million for community and Traditional Owner-led partnership projects. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser.


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