Scientific consensus reached: Chemical fertiliser and crown of thorns destroying Reef



[news_posted_on] 02 October 2012  | 
Revelations that chemical fertiliser pollution is driving the significant and ongoing loss of coral on the Great Barrier Reef highlights the urgent need for intervention by the Australian and Queensland Governments, WWF-Australia said today.

A new scientific paper, The 27 Year Decline of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its Causes, released today by the Australian Institute of Marine Science reveals a staggering 50 per cent loss in coral cover since the early 1980s.

The report attributes the majority of this coral decline to infestation by the coral-eating Crown of Thorns starfish, which thrives in fertiliser-polluted waters.

“This report shows that over half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead or dying predominantly as a result of pollution from chemical fertilisers,” says WWF-Australia spokesperson Nick Heath

Mr Heath said the findings drew a line under previous scientific debates as to which human impacts caused the most damage to the World Heritage icon.

“The debate is over. This latest research demonstrates that more decisive action to cut chemical fertiliser is urgently needed to prevent unprecedented and on-going outbreaks of Crown of Thorns starfish, which are in turn converting the Great Barrier Reef into rubble,” he said.

“Previously, there was disagreement within the scientific community as to whether chemical fertiliser and Crown of Thorns starfish were the main culprits in the decline of the Reef.

“Today’s scientific paper brings together those scientists with previously opposing views and the verdict is now beyond reasonable doubt.”

WWF is calling on the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to commit at least half a billion dollars over seven years to meet his targets of a 50 per cent cut in chemical fertiliser run-off by next year and no detrimental run-off by 2020. Queensland has already committed $245m through to 2020 for a range of pollution reduction programs.

The conservation organisation is also calling on Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to enforce existing laws to cut pollution from 1 July 2013.

“What this report shows is that we need urgent recommitment from both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments that will significantly reduce chemical fertiliser pollution on the Reef,” Mr Heath said.

“While these findings are deeply disturbing, with the right political will we can stop the march of Crown of Thorns starfish in its tracks and save the Reef.

“Sixty thousand jobs in the tourism industry depend on us acting with urgency over the next few years.”

Crown of Thorns starfish have already cost businesses and taxpayers millions of dollars in control measures.

In 2003, an outbreak on reefs between Cairns and the Whitsundays cost tourism operators, and the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments about $3 million a year for control measures.1

Images of corals and crown of thorns starfish available on request.

WWF-Australia contact:
Daniel Rockett, Senior Media Officer, WWF-Australia, 0432 206 592, drockett@wwf.org.au
Nick Heath, Great Barrier Reef Program Leader, WWF-Australia, 0418 885 324, nheath@wwf.org.au

1. http://www.reef.crc.org.au/publications/brochures/COTS_web_Nov2003.pdf
Crown of thorns seastars (Acathaster planci) are not just found in Australia, but they are found on the Great Barrier Reef .These echinoderms (star shaped animals) can occur in plague proportions, eating all live coral in their path, and are drastically reducing the size and viability of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Crown of thorns seastars (Acathaster planci) are not just found in Australia, but they are found on the Great Barrier Reef .These echinoderms (star shaped animals) can occur in plague proportions, eating all live coral in their path, and are drastically reducing the size and viability of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon Enlarge

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