Australia: Strategic Assessment Bolsters Protection of GBR
The Australian and Queensland Governments have today released the final comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area addressing a key recommendation of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
The comprehensive strategic assessment, released alongside the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014, is a comprehensive analysis of issues affecting the reef and what is needed for its protection.
The strategic assessment found the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area retains its outstanding universal value and integrity although some aspects are under pressure.
Just as was identified in the 2009 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, the 2014 Outlook identifies run-off, crown-of-thorns starfish, development along the coast, fishing and illegal fishing, and climate change as the major threats to the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef remains one of the most resilient marine ecosystems in the world and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s management is considered effective for activities where it has direct responsibility or a high level of control.
The Assessment and Outlook also shows:
• The Great Barrier Reef as a whole retains the qualities contributing to its outstanding universal value;
• Recovery in Humpback whale and Loggerhead turtle populations;
• Reductions in the nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads from the catchment entering the region.
Along the Queensland coast, the northern areas, above Port Douglas, remain in good condition while areas further south have been affected by human use and natural disasters.
The assessment found storms, cyclones, poor water quality, the impacts of fishing, and the combination of legacy issues like broad scale land clearing, are the biggest impacts.
The impact of port development is localized and continued best practice management is required to lessen their contribution to overall impacts.
These are important milestones for the long-term protection of this global icon.
Among the initiatives to be adopted by the Commonwealth and Queensland Government are:
• A cumulative impact assessment policy and guidelines for a transparent, consistent and systematic approach to identifying, measuring and managing collective impacts on the region and its values;
• A net benefit policy to guide actions aimed at restoring ecosystem health and improve the condition of values;
• A new approach to decision making based on clear targets for maintaining the reef’s Outstanding Universal Value;
• No port development outside the key long-established ports of Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point-Mackay and Gladstone;
• A Reef recovery program to support local communities and other stakeholders to protect and restore sites of high environmental value and critical ecosystem functions through cooperative regional-scale management approaches;
• Reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting that underpins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s adaptive management and provides good feedback on the effectiveness of management actions.
The 2014 Outlook Report acknowledges progress made in reducing pollutants entering the reef and the work with Traditional Owners on sea country management.
A series of major storms and floods during the five-year reporting period had an adverse impact on the reef’s ecosystem. Together, these reports reinforce there are no quick fixes and it will take time to turn around the overall health of the reef with a concerted effort from government, industries and communities.
The Commonwealth and Queensland governments are jointly investing approximately $180 million annually in the reef’s health.
The strategic assessment and Outlook Report provide a valuable opportunity to examine the cumulative impacts of activities on the Reef and the effectiveness of management to deal with such impacts. The strategic assessment is informing measures in the Commonwealth and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.
This overarching framework for managing the reef from 2015 to 2050 is being developed in partnership with reef stakeholders. It will be released for public comment later this year. For the first time, the Government has established a $40 million Reef Trust which will put the focus firmly on improving coastal habitat, water quality and enhancing species protection along the reef.
Queensland has agreed for the first time to limit port development in priority port development areas to protect pristine areas from the impacts of port development.
Partnerships across all levels of government—and with traditional owners, stakeholders, industry and the broader community—are key to the reef’s future.
The UNESCO World Heritage has recognized the significant work and progress in protecting the reef thus far and the Commonwealth and Queensland governments will continue to meet its key recommendations in protecting the long-term health of the reef.
Press Release, August 12, 2014