SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA —
The health of one of Australia’s greatest natural treasures — the Great Barrier Reef — is improving, according to a new government study. But environmentalists say the report has failed to address the contentious political issue of land clearing.
The joint report by the Queensland state government and its federal counterpart shows that pollution flowing into the Great Barrier Reef has declined. Farmers are praised for reducing the amount of harmful fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants running from their properties into coastal waters. But poor water quality, exacerbated by runoff from farms, continues to be one of the most significant threats to the long-term health of the reef, which stretches about 2,300kilometers down the north-east coast of Australia.
The joint government assessment of the reef concedes that better land management practices are needed.
The world heritage body UNESCO, has threatened to put the Great Barrier Reef on its “in danger” list because of environmental concerns.
Steven Miles, the Queensland state environment minister, said work to protect the world’s largest coral system is continuing.
“We did accelerate our investment and our activity in subsequent years. I am confident that the World Heritage committee will continue to recognize the progress that the Queensland and Australian governments have made in more recent years. That is what their most recent report says,” he said.
But conservationists insist the report ignores the impact of “massive’ tree clearing in Queensland, which they believe threatens to unleash more pollution into the Great Barrier Reef.
The state government has also struggled to bring in contentious new laws to stop farmers chopping down trees.
Sean Hoobin, from WWF Australia, a conservation group, said the problem of land clearing cannot be ignored.
“There is a huge amount of sediment coming in from cleared land and until the data is properly incorporated the government cannot be claiming pollution reduction when major factors like tree clearing are not actually included,” he said.
More than two million tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef each year, including growing numbers from China, South Korea and Japan.
The reef is the size of Italy and has been subjected to mounting environmental threats, including rising sea temperatures, over-fishing and the industrialization of the Queensland coast by mining companies and other heavy industries.