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SEI in the Media: Iain McCalman Responds to the Queensland Government’s Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan

SEI co-director Iain McCalman on the Conversation responding to the Queensland Government’s 2050 plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

In response to the Queensland government’s Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan The Conversation Australia published three Reef experts’ reactions. The plan is supposed to outline measures to safeguard the Reef and to protect the internationally recognised World Heritage Area.

SEI co-director, and author of The Reef, Iain McCalman had the following to say of the proposed plan.

I applaud the Australian Government’s plan to improve Great Barrier Reef water quality by reducing the pollution caused by sewage, chemical fertilisers and silt dumping. But when it comes to preserving the long-term health of the reef and its region, these policies go straight to the periphery of the matter.

Instituting such remedies while at the same time supporting massive increases in coal mining – with their attendant need for port expansions, channel dredging, and container ship congestion – seems bizarre at best. These much-trumpeted new water policies deliberately ignore the dire long-term threats to the reef that are contained in the now unutterable words “climate change”. They are akin to investing in cures for a patient’s skin diseases while ignoring their cancer symptoms.

The global warming and climate instability resulting from the greenhouse gases that we pump into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels will continue, with mounting frequency, to cause our reef waters both to warm and to acidify. Only a few degrees of water heat beyond normal turns reef-growing corals into bleached white skeletons; and the carbon dioxide-altered water chemistry also causes their limestone skeletons to dissolve gradually, as if immersed in carbonic acid.

If all this were not enough, more frequent and more ferocious cyclones – like the one that has just devastated Vanuatu – will bash the reef’s increasingly brittle skeletons to pieces. We might have cleaner waters, but we won’t have a reef.

No wonder our late great poet Judith Wright once wrote in exasperation that if the Barrier Reef could think, it would fear us. We offer gifts with one hand and wield clubs with the other.

Read the other expert responses to the plan on The Conversation Australia