EnvironmentSocial issues

What’s up GBR?

– by Cesilia Faustina

“With fronds like these, who needs anemones?”

– Marlin, Finding Nemo (2003)

The number one image that comes to mind when talking about Pixar’s Finding Nemo – other than clown fish and Ellen DeGeneres – is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR), still famous a decade after the movie’s release, is renowned for its beauty and incredible diversity of nature.

But perhaps Marlin’s line shows a greater relevance on GBR’s situation. The GBR crops up in talk every now and then – is it really disappearing, or is it managing? What is up with the GBR?

According to the Great Barrier Reef 2014 Outlook Report, a number of threats persist. The report stated that the highest risk lies in four main points: climate change, coastal development, land-based run-off, and direct use.

Pre-existing risks are increasing, especially those already considered high-risk. Among these are altered weather patterns; illegal fishing and poaching; the modification of coastal habitats; a large outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish, which preys on coral; and incidental catch, or unintentional catching,  of species which are of conservation concern.

Climate change remains one of the biggest threats for the GBR.

These concerns also seem to be growing with the Queensland government’s new water legislation, which allows the taking of groundwater by miners. It has attracted criticism from various stakeholders, such as local government associations, landholders, and scientists, and was also denounced by the Marine Park Authority as causing environmental issues towards the reef. The legislation was passed by Queensland Parliament on November 26.

With increasing threats and lack of support for this underwater utopia, the question remains: is anything being done about it?

The Queensland government defended its efforts on the preservation of the reef to UNESCO in order to prevent listing its status as “in danger”, among fears of reduced tourism traffic. The government maintained during the G20 Brisbane summit that steps are being taken to restore it and that it is on the way to recovery.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said he will travel to the reef with UN representatives to showcase the efforts being taken.

“We are getting them out on the reef so they can see first-hand that it’s in good shape,” he told the Guardian.

Powell also acknowledged the UN’s concerns and the threats being faced. “We all know that UNESCO has identified that. The world heritage committee and the International Union for Conservation of Nature have identified that.”

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said, “The world heritage committee is very worried by the damage to the universal value of the Great Barrier Reef, but now the government is listening, the government is starting to take serious measures.”

The general hope is that the fragile state of the GBR will recover slowly through the invested efforts. However, more should be done to continue and improve such initiatives, especially by the Australian government. Maybe then Nemo and his friends can keep both their fronds and anemones.

Photo credit: fleuranna via Flickr

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