Great Barrier Reef: advisers call for cap on farm pollution

Taskforce head reportedly tells Queensland government ‘we’re stuffed with a capital S’ if water quality isn’t improved

A cap on pollution from farms close to the Great Barrier Reef has been proposed by advisers to the Queensland government.

The Great Barrier Reef water science taskforce, which advises the Queensland government on how to meet pollution targets on the reef, said sugar cane, grazing and other sectors should be given pollution load limits for their industries in each catchment. It also called for incentives such as auctions for pollution reduction, greater monitoring and regulation, along with “significantly more investment” in the problem.

The Labor state government said it would adopt some of the recommendations immediately, and use the recommendations to guide $90m the government committed to spend on reef water quality before being elected.

The report was hailed as a “game changer” by some conservationists, while others called for the costings behind it to be released immediately.

Steven Miles, the Queensland environment minister, said: “There are a number of actions recommended by the taskforce that we can begin to implement immediately.”

Among them, the government would spend $33.5m on two projects to limit fertiliser and pesticide runoff from the northern wet tropics, and to limit sediment from the southern Burdekin region.

They would also spend $20m to support changes in land management, which would limit pollution, and $11m on greater water quality monitoring, which could provide information to farmers.

The majority of water pollution hitting the Great Barrier Reef comes from farms along the rivers that feed into the Queensland coast. Land clearing also increases the amount of sediment pollution.

Minimising water pollution would make coral and seagrass more resilient to the biggest problems the reef faces, as a result of climate change.

At a press conference, Queensland’s chief scientist Geoff Garrett, who led the taskforce, reportedly said “we’re stuffed with a capital S” if water quality isn’t improved.

'We're stuffed with a capital S' if we don't manage run off on the reef says Qld Chief Scientist #greatbarrierreef

— Shane Doherty (@ShaneDoherty9) May 25, 2016

In a statement Garrett said: “While we acknowledge the efforts to date, it is abundantly clear that more widespread and rapid action is required.”

“Achieving the water quality targets in the timescale proposed is likely to be well beyond the funds currently allocated by the Queensland and Australian governments.”

The Queensland government had targets of reducing reducing nitrogen pollution by up to 80% and sediment by up to 50% by 2025. The cost of achieving that was the subject of another report, which has been completed but is undergoing review.

Jon Brodie, a reef and water quality expert from James Cook University, said the recommendations on water quality were sensible.

Imogen Zethoven, the Great Barrier Reef campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said that report needed to be released immediately so voters could properly evaluate the commitments parties were making in the federal election campaign.

“The public deserves to know what investment is needed to save the reef,” she said.

WWF spokesman Sean Hoobin hailed the report as a “game changer”.

“A catchment cap on pollution which reduces over time, is needed to ensure the reef gets the clean water it needs to restore its health,” Hoobin said.

“A cap is best achieved through federal laws and we are calling for the major parties to announce they would legislate pollution limits to deliver clean water to the reef by 2025.”


Michael Slezak

The GuardianTramp

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