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Report: Pollution Still a Threat to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

FILE - A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture.
FILE - A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture.

There's more disturbing news for one of Australia's most iconic natural treasures - the Great Barrier Reef. Efforts to curb pollution are moving too slowly, according to a report released by the Queensland state government.

The report shows the health of the waters surrounding the Great Barrier Reef remains poor, and that efforts to prevent the stain of pollution in the reef’s inshore waters are moving too slowly.

Research has shown that between 2009 and 2014 the amount of sediments, nutrients and pesticides from farmland fell, although not enough to reach environmental targets.

Sediment and chemicals can destabilize the coral, restricting its ability to feed and grow.

Queensland’s environment minister, Steven Miles, said the research shows the reef needs more protection.

“Over that 5-year period we did see some progress towards our targets. Sediment is down 12 per cent and pesticides loads are down 30 per cent, but what is most disturbing is these results are far from our targets. Progress towards these targets flat-lined in the period 2013 to 2014. If one of my kids came home with a report card like this I would be a bit disappointed. There is more bad news here than good news,” said Miles.

The report found that less than a third of Queensland’s sugar plantations were using recommended techniques to reduce the use of pesticides.

Only 28% of land managers known as graziers were managing their land properly and reducing harmful water runoff to safeguard the health of the reef. The official target for all these practices is a 90% reduction in pesticide use within three years.

Farmers’ organizations, however, insist that their members were trying to make the transition to more sustainable practices as soon as possible.

In July, UNESCO withdrew its threat to list the reef as a World Heritage area in danger, but has demanded Australia do more to protect the series of coral reefs that snakes down its north-eastern coastline.

The reef is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations and lies at the core of an industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs.

The wondrous 2,300 kilometer stretch of coral faces myriad threats, including climate change, industrialization, illegal fishing and outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish that prey on the coral.