Saving the reef | Queensland Greens

Saving the reef

Our Reef is under serious threat. It's time for action - not talk. We will keep the Great Barrier Reef and the many jobs it supports on the political agenda.

Our Reef is under serious threat. It's time for action - not talk. We will keep the Great Barrier Reef and the many jobs it supports on the

The Great Barrier Reef is a natural treasure and an international icon. It is World Heritage Listed, but our Reef is under threat from climate change, dredging and dumping, coastal development and poor water quality. The Greens have a plan to save our Great Barrier Reef and the 69,000 jobs it supports.

Our reef at risk

The Great Barrier Reef is an internationally renowned biodiversity icon and one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

But it is under threat like never before. The World Heritage Committee expects an update on the Reef 2050 strategy in 2017 and will be very concerned to see if progress is being made ahead of the five-year review that will take place in 2020.

Protecting the Reef is good for the economy and local jobs that won’t disappear when the mining boom does. Protecting the Reef is good for regional communities, for future generations and for our unique marine life.

What the Greens will do

The Greens have a plan to save the Reef. We will:

  • Ban all offshore dumping of dredge spoil within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, with no loopholes like both the big parties propose.
  • Stop port expansions for fossil fuel exports, including Abbot Point coal terminal.
  • Protect pristine areas such as the Fitzroy Delta and Cape York from port development.
  • Increase funding by $500 million over 5 years to farmers to reduce land-based run-off and place a cap on water quality pollution.
  • Invest $10 million to develop a proper comprehensive plan for the Reef before any new developments can be approved.
  • Rapidly reduce climate change, which is already damaging the Reef.

Current emergency

Scientists have warned that without drastic action the Great Barrier Reef could be dead by 2100. The Reef has already lost 50% of coral cover since 1985 and experts warn it could halve again in the next 10 years.1 That the Reef might die is unthinkable and unacceptable. The Great Barrier Reef contributes $6 billion dollars annually to our economy and generates around 69,000 sustainable jobs. 

Beyond the wealth and employment, the Great Barrier Reef is widely recognised as having some of the most incredible biodiversity, with more than 8,000 marine species. For all these reasons, the reef has been globally recognised as being of Outstanding Universal Value by the World Heritage Committee.

Our plan to save the reef

We have an extensive plan to save and protect the Reef. 

Ban all dumping on the reef

The Great Barrier Reef is being treated like a rubbish tip.

Mass digging up of the Reef to deepen ports and dumping that ‘dredge spoil’ back into Reef waters is no way to treat a World Heritage Area. Dredging and dumping mobilises fine sediments, which travel for kilometres and smother sea-grass beds that are crucial for turtles and dugongs. It also disturbs heavy metals and increases turbidity. These activities have been proven to result in degraded water quality for up to two years after the initial release.

The Queensland Greens want a complete ban on all offshore dumping of dredge spoil in the whole Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. We would also stop all new capital dredging for proposed fossil fuel port expansions, including for Abbot Point coal terminal. Some maintenance dredging for existing facilities will need to continue, however, this must be informed by the best available science to minimise impacts, and must be disposed onshore.

This is a stronger commitment than either of the old parties, with both the LNP and Labor including various loopholes and carve-outs to continue dredge spoil dumping in the Reef’s waters. Only the Greens will end all dumping in the Reef’s waters.

Stop fossil fuel port expansions

Both the Newman and Abbott governments have continued to support what was originally Labor’s plan to build the biggest coal port in the world, right on the shores of the Great Barrier Reef – at Abbot Point. This would involve dredging and dumping 3 million tonnes of sea bed, and would turn our Reef into a shipping super highway for fossil fuels with up to 7,000 ships annually crossing the reef.

Initially the LNP and Abbott Governments allowed 5 million tonnes of dredge spoil for the Abbot Point expansion to be dumped back offshore into Reef waters, but thanks to the opposition by the Greens and the community outcry they have been forced to back down, and to reduce the total amount of dredging to 3 million tonnes. Now though, they plan to dump the spoil on sensitive wetlands right on the Reef’s shores: the nationally significant Caley Valley Wetlands, which are the Reef’s natural filters. The Greens will stop this environmentally reckless port expansion. We would overturn the Abbot Point Port expansion approval.

Both of the old parties have also pushed for massive port expansions at Gladstone, Townsville and Cairns. Building these facilities would be an ecological disaster for the Reef. We already have 12 ports in the Great Barrier Reef, and most are not being used to their full capacity. In this age of climate change, we don’t need any more coal ports.

The Queensland Greens would stop all port expansions for fossil fuel export. All other future developments must be based upon the best available science and subject to strict environmental assessment in order to protect all coastal ecosystems.

Protect pristine areas

The Reef’s precious wetlands and other coastal ecosystems are under threat from industrial, urban and agricultural developments. For instance, we have already lost up to 30% of coastal wetlands, which are vital for water quality.

The Queensland Greens would implement UNESCO’s recommendation to protect our pristine coastal areas such as the Fitzroy Delta and Cape York from port development. The LNP and Labor have repeatedly failed to commit to these recommendations. We would also urgently protect our other precious coastal wetlands.

Water quality protection

Declining water quality has been identified for decades as a major threat to the Reef, but progress to address the problem has been painfully slow.

A major contributor is run-off from agricultural land. Sediments, fertiliser and pesticides from farming flow into the Reef’s water, which lowers the resilience of corals, fish, dugongs and turtles, and worsens deadly crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Poor water quality also lowers fish stocks, and hurts tourism operators.

The current Reef Water Quality Protection Plan has been partially successful, but there is still no long term target for pollution reduction, and funding is totally inadequate. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan is failing to reach its interim targets and has been subject to Federal funding cuts. For example, nitrogen was to have been reduced by 50% by 2013, but only 10% was achieved.

The Queensland Greens will get serious about water quality. We will increase funding under the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan for farmers to reduce agricultural run-off and adopt other sustainable land practices by $500 million over 5 years. This funding will allow farmers and other landholders to improve land-management, reduce harmful fertiliser and pesticide use, and rehabilitate and protect riparian and coastal land.

We will task the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with identifying an ambitious long-term target for water quality and the cap on pollution required to reach that target. We will also make sure that coastal developments do not damage critical mangroves and wetlands, which are the Reef’s natural water filters.

We would fund this unprecedented commitment to the Reef’s future by reducing subsidies to the coal industry. For example, over the last six years, LNP and Labor governments have spent $9.5 billion supporting the mining and fossil fuel industries, including $2 billion on the environmentally disastrous Abbot Point coal terminal.3 In 2014-15, the LNP government is planning to spend more than $162 million subsidising coal ports.

Comprehensive plan for reef protection

The Federal government’s Reef Plan 2050 is supposed to set out a plan to safeguard the Reef for future generations, but it has been slammed by Australia’s top scientific body. The Australian Academy of Science has condemned the government’s draft plan, warning that it will not stop the Reef’s decline, and that it ignores climate change5 The Greens would invest $10million to commission a strong plan for Reef protection with clear limits on development and on-the-ground analysis. Development approvals would paused until the plan is complete.

Fighting climate change

Scientists have warned us that climate change is the biggest threat to the Reef. To preserve the Reef as we know it, we must rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Both the LNP and Labor have overseen a huge expansion of fossil fuels by approving coal mine and coal seam gas fields. The Greens are the party of climate action. We will begin the transition to 100% renewable energy, staring with a Queensland Renewable Energy Target of 90% by 2030 (see our plan here). We will phase out fossil fuels, including a ban on new coal and coal seam gas projects.

The old parties back the miners over the reef

Neither of the old parties have ever rejected a coal or coal seam gas proposal, despite the damage these fossil fuels do to the Reef by contributing to climate change and through the increased dredging, dumping and shipping required to expand these industries.

Their reckless behaviour has already attracted condemnation from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which has warned that the Reef could be listed as ‘World Heritage In Danger’. Such a listing would be an international embarrassment and a blow to the 69,000 jobs that rely on a healthy Reef.

Campbell Newman has declared that “we’re in the coal business” and the LNP has committed to spending “hundreds of millions” of taxpayers’ dollars to build a railway and port for Indian coal mining company Adani to facilitate Reef-killing coal exports.

The Labor party also supports the coal industry “for the foreseeable future.”6 Last time they were in office, they approved three huge LNG terminals, and the mega-dredging in Gladstone harbour which set off an environmental disaster and the collapse of local fisheries.

Neither major party has committed to a credible ban on dumping, with the LNP allowing dumping for port expansions to continue and Labor saying they will allow dumping of spoil from maintenance dredging anywhere in the Reef’s waters.