Australia has declared that it will ban dumping of sediment in the marine park area of the Great Barrier Reef, but not in the entire World Heritage Site. This matters because, according to environmental pressure group Fight for the Reef, in recent years 80% of dumping has been in World Heritage waters just outside the Marine Park.
During a speech in Sydney at the World Parks Congress, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said that the government will legislate a ban on dumping.
Spoil will still affect Coral and Seagrass
A ban in just the Marine Park, though, would still allow millions of tonnes of spoil to be dumped where plumes can easily drift onto coral and seagrass.
The expansion of Abbot Point, to make it one of the world’s biggest coal ports in middle of the Great Barrier Reef is still going to go ahead – this time with the dumping of toxic sludge on wetlands. Wetlands are the filters and the fish nurseries for the Reef.
Groups press to protect entire World Heritage Area
Environmental groups are pressing for the government to protect the entire World Heritage area or risk an ‘in-danger’ listing for the Reef from the World Heritage Committee.
Practically the entire Great Barrier Reef was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1981. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It also contains habitats of species like the dugong and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.
In June 2015 the World Heritage Committee will decide whether to place the Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Fight for the Reef is a partnership between WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Australia today announced the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve, covering the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. Oil and gas exploration will banned but commercial fishing will be allowed in many areas.
Australia’s marine reserves will increase from 27 to 60, covering one third of the nation’s seas.
The announcement of the reserves was made a week before more than 130 countries congregate for the United Nations’ sustainable development conference in an attempt to limit climate change, one of the biggest conferences in U.N. history.
Environmental groups welcomed the news, with WWF-Australian CEO Dermot O’Gorman saying “Australia has the third largest ocean territory in the world that stretches from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic and is home to incredible creatures such as whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks as well as spectacular corals and other ecosystems”. However they called for places like Rowley Shoals and Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia to also be protected.
IFAW (Interational Fund for Animal Welfare) commented “The IFAW is pleased to see important parts of the humpback whale nursery in the Kimberley and some southern right whale calving grounds off the south west coast included in the network, but critically important feeding grounds for blue whales…remain insufficiently protected. While northern parts of the Perth Canyons have been protected from oil and gas exploration, the remainder is still open to exploration and the damaging effects that can have on whales. This means that to some extent all three of the recognised blue whale feeding grounds in Australian waters are still open to negative impact from offshore petroleum exploration and production. The Environment Department has had its hands tied throughout the whole process in any attempts to address the threats to marine life from the oil and gas industry. The network, for the most part, addresses areas only where the industry doesn’t operate or isn’t looking to operate in the future.”
Australia Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said “We have an incredible opportunity to turn the tide on protection of the oceans and Australia can lead the world in marine protection”.
Two weeks ago a U.N. report said the Great Barrier Reef was under imminent threat from industrial development and may be considered for listing as a world heritage site “in danger” in February next year.
Watching Google Earth over time could show the effects of predator removal, such as through fishing, nearly anywhere on Earth, according to a study published this week in Scientific Reports.
A Google Earth image survey of the lagoon habitat at Heron Island within Australia’s Great Barrier Reef revealed distinct halo patterns within algal beds surrounding patch reefs. Underwater surveys confirmed that, as predicted, algal canopy height increases with distance from reef edges. This was due to herbivore grazing. In conjunction with behaviour studies, this shows that the actions the herbivores collectively took to avoid predators could be seen from space. Watching this over time provides and amazingly low cost way of monitoring the effects of predators. And indeed of the herbivores.
Freely-available satellite imagery of the entire Earth’s surface via Google Earth allows examination of landscape features in even the most remote areas, including difficult-to-access habitats within them. But the study has shown that it is possible to remotely observe the landscape-scale footprint of behavioural interactions between predators and prey on shallow coral reefs.
Grazing halos—rings of bare substrate devoid of seaweed—have long been noted surrounding coral patch reefs. Halos have been attributed to fish or urchins, suggesting that they shelter from predators within reefs and take foraging excursions that radiate outwards from this central refuge.
The study concludes that the technique could allow remote monitoring of indirect effects of predator removals (e.g., due to fishing; hunting) and/or reintroductions (e.g., North America’s wolves; India’s cheetahs; African game reserves) anywhere on earth. In nations with limited conservation resources, this technique may prove particularly valuable.