Australia’s Great Barrier Reef In Decline ……. Really?

great_barrier_reefI see that there is much ado in the media today about our alleged Environment Minister (Julie Bishop) using Climate Talks in Peru, to lobby against UNESCO possibly declaring The Great Barrier Reef to be ‘in danger’. The Government’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority acknowledges research by the Australian Institute of Marine Research which indicates that the GBR has lost 50% of its coral over the past 30 years, with a parallel and substantial loss of bio-diversity,

Much of the decline of the reef is being attributed to human activities (catchments, ports, shipping, urban development and fishing) with the new environmental climate change catch-all being the other primary cause.

Recent proposals to develop port and shipping infrastructure in support of the mining industry has arisen as the latest environmental dust-up between industry, their ambassadors (our politicians!) and environmental groups. With the Great Barrier Reef being such an icon of Australia, there seems to be a considerable public leaning towards supporting the environmental view. This is perhaps not so surprising, considering that 80% of Australia’s mining interests are foreign-owned with the remainder being owned by just a few mega-rich Australians. Its not exactly an industry in which the public has any real investment, beyond the employment that the industry currently provides. There are also the token royalties that the government receives for selling our nation, one shovel full at a time.

More than forty years ago, I recall seeing a TV documentary about the Great Barrier Reef. I was horrified. The reason for the show was that the reef was under serious threat from a newly introduced pest species, the Crown Of Thorns Starfish. It had apparently arrived in ship ballast water from Indo China, had multiplied in massive numbers and was literally eating the reef as we watched.

A current webpage of the Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority indicates that, since I watched that documentary as a youth, the Crown Of Thorns starfish has been responsible for 50% of the coral loss on the reef and that, in the absence of this pest, coral coverage would have experienced a net INCREASE over that time. (see

All those years ago, we were hearing about the imminent threat to our beloved natural wonder and, it seems, we have been unable or unwilling to find the resources necessary to combat the Crown Of Thorns starfish. It is apparently still very much in residence. On its past performance, you’d have to conclude that it is capable of continuing its relentless destruction of this World Heritage Asset. I’m not aware of any brilliant new plans to eradicate it.

So over a period of forty years during which successive governments of both persuasions have come and gone, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef has continued with relentless certainty. Occasionally, there has been a doco that has alluded to the decline of the reef. Curiously, there hasn’t been anything like the public attention and polarization that the latest industrial proposals seem to have hatched.

There is currently a strong opinion amongst ordinary citizens that our current government are the puppets of the Multi-nationals and the Mega-Rich ….. that they have no interest in looking after the interests of ordinary Australians. The government employs a veritable army of spin doctors who’s only reason for being is apparently to sugar coat their anti-public policies and to convince a skeptical public that their pandering to the rich and powerful is somehow in the national interest. The affinity that Australians have for their National Treasures, including the Great Barrier Reef have nothing to do with money and everything to do with an imagined national identity.

I would like to offer one person’s humble advice on how we can save the Great Barrier Reef, how we can support our mining industry and how we can, at the same time, keep everybody happy. And if I do say so myself, that whole army of government hired strategists and spin doctors couldn’t pull that off. And I’m willing to do it for free.

The problems, As I see them, are these:

Unless the ongoing threat from the Crown Of Thorns Starfish is eradicated, any talk of saving the reef is simply dust in the wind. Climate Change won’t find a reef to destroy if and when it ever becomes a real factor. The reef will be long gone.

Australians have a deep down understanding that the benefits from our mining industries that actually flow to ordinary Australians are token, at best. The vast bulk of the profits are being spirited away by multi national miners and our local celebrity billionaires.

The proposed new port and shipping facilities are necessary to support the mining industry.

If enough ordinary Australians get behind the environmental campaign to protect the reef (by stopping the development of further port and shipping infrastructure) it will be difficult for the government to deliver these things to their masters.

So, the solution:

  1. Get the mining industry to improve its public image by creating a fund for the protection and reclamation of the Great Barrier Reef. Have them invest heavily in strategies to eradicate the Crown Of Thorns Starfish firstly, before you worry about other threats.
  2. Legislate to require all superannuation funds to invest a fixed proportion of their member- held funds in the mining industry.

The benefits of this simple, two pronged strategy are obvious.

You will create employment through the mining industry’s fund for reef protection. (Tony, repeat after me “Jobs good … unemployment bad”). You might even deliver a few of those million or so new jobs that you promised before the election.

The additional investment in the mining industry will help to create more jobs for Australians.

You will create a cleaner, more community minded image for the mining industry overall.

You will give a significant portion of our society a feeling of support and solidarity towards the mining industry, given that their own funds are tied up in it.

The mining industry will then be seen as a part of the Australian community. Rather than an invading thief, here to pillage and destroy.

Aussies will get their reef effectively protected. They’ll probably volunteer to help build your new ports and dredge that small portion of the reef that you need for your mining operations …. if they have money tied up in the profit outcome. (There are clear precedents with timber plantations in Tasmania …. where beautiful bushland used to be.) If you protect and recover most of the reef area, then the small portion that might suffer from the proposed mining facilities will be of little consequence. We will have more, healthy reef than we do now. And Australia’s (and the mining industry’s) image as anti-environmental vandals (well earned) will be in part ameliorated.

I do believe that if my tongue-in-cheek proposals were seriously entertained, it’d do a darn sight more good than sending Julie Bishop on a mission which will make her and the Australian voting public look like a mob of environmental neanderthals. A half wit can see that the reef really is ‘in danger’, but probably least from the mining industry.

And remember, if you want an Aussie to support your plans for environmental destruction, make sure you tie some of his money up in it. Even the army of armchair environmentalists will come onside, if it’s their Super money. Hundreds and thousands of hectares of destroyed bushland speaks for itself.

Andrew Caddle 2104-12-10

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