Are Australians really prepared to let the Great Barrier Reef die?

All over the world the Great Barrier Reef is making front page news. The world is watching how Australia exercises its duty of care over this most loved international icon.

‘As warming seas kill off one of the world’s natural wonders, researchers are calling for urgent action,’ Britons read in The Guardian newspaper this week. ‘Last chance to save Great Barrier Reef, warn scientists’, the headline read. …

Australia’s national daily also put the reef on the front page, but it had a very different take on the situation. ‘Scientists ‘exaggerated’ coral bleaching’ the headline read. The claim was that some ‘activist scientists’ and ‘lobby groups’ had confused people with references to percentages of coral death in different parts of the reef to make out the bleaching was worse than it really is.

Yet immediately following this coverage, top coral scientists were quick to point out that they had no need – or desire – to exaggerate the sad state of the reef.

‘Twenty two per cent of whole GBR, 35 per cent north of Townsville. Different areas. Where’s the exaggeration?’ asked University of Queensland coral scientist Dr Selina Ward in a tweet.

‘An inconvenient truth – shocking numbers speak for themselves. You decide how serious this is.’ tweeted Professor Terry Hughes.

But, of course, the biggest threat to the reef is not run-off or crown-of-thorns – serious as these problems are – it’s climate change.

This year’s mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is about as stark a reminder as we could possibly expect that climate change is hitting Australia hard, and we must act fast to get ourselves out of the coal business.

I don’t believe Australians will let the Great Barrier Reef die. But it will take more than just hopes and goodwill to save it. We will need to convince our politicians that it is time to say no to proposals like Adani’s Carmichael proposal and create a future that is coal free.

We need to ask ourselves: are we as a nation so in thrall to the coal industry that we are willing to let the reef perish?

The Age: 10 June 2016
Geoff Cousins
President of the Australian Conservation Foundation

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