Great Barrier Reef's condition is declining

July 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM
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SYDNEY, July 10 (UPI) -- The overall condition of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is poor, an Australian government report says.

The Great Barrier Reef report, released Wednesday, attributes the reef's condition to extreme weather conditions, including February 2011's cyclone Yasi and heavy rains that resulted in "higher than average discharge" from a number of river catchments runoffs, The Guardian reports.

"These extreme weather events significantly impacted the overall condition of the marine environment which declined from moderate to poor overall in 2010–2011," the report states.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO had said this year it may list the Great Barrier Reef on its "World Heritage in Danger" list, expressing concern about major gas and coal mining projects near the Queensland coast line and expansion of the Gladstone harbor. Last month, it deferred its decision until early next year.

The report said reef ecosystems "are showing declining trends in condition due to poor water quality, cumulative impacts of climate change and increasing intensity of extreme weather events," The Australian reports.

"In spite of solid improvement, data tells us that poor water quality is continuing to have a detrimental effect on reef health," The Guardian quoted Australian Minister for the Environment Mark Butler as saying.

"To secure the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef it is critical that we build on the momentum of the previous reef plan with a focus on improving water quality and land management practices through ambitious but achievable targets," Butler said.

The federal and Queensland state governments announced Wednesday they will invest $375 million between 2013 and 2018 under a new Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, intended to reduce chemical runoff.

While the report indicates agricultural sediment run-off was taking a toll on the Great Barrier Reef, Butler said there had been some "very positive results" in land management practices.

"We are seeing some very, very good results in industries like cane growing, like grazing and horticulture in terms of land management practices of those industries minimizing the agricultural run-off, particularly of nitrogens which are leading to an increase in the presence of crown-of-thorn starfish on the reef, but also pesticides," Butler said, the Brisbane Times reports.

The starfish feed on the coral.

Environmental organization WWF says the reef supports 60,000 tourism jobs and contributes $6 billion to the Australian economy.

"The outlook for the Reef is not good but the situation isn't hopeless -- solutions do exist," said Nick Heath, spokesman for WWF Australia. "We just need more investment, more targeted action in the most dangerous pollution hot spots."

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