Australia is rich in marine and terrestrial biodiversity and you would think that with this wealth of natural heritage the Australian government would do anything to preserve it for tourism, species survival and environmental aesthetics. This however is not the case. Since Tony Abbots election in 2013, he has made it clear that he and his party favor rapid industrial development to create jobs and economic stability, rather than the conservation of the delicate Australian ecosystems.

“The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”  – Tony Abbot

Abbot and the Queensland government have made plans to develop mega ports, dredging operations, dumping and a 7,000 ship superhighway around the waters of the great barrier reef that will undoubtedly disturb the reefs ecosystem and the wider environment.

The great barrier reef is home to 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins. It covers 344,400 km2 in area and is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world (gbrmpa.gov.au, 2014). Conservation and preservation of this marine habitat is essential for the survival of Australian marine life and migratory species that are interdependent upon one another. It’s impossible to determine what effect the proposed plans will have and it’s one we shouldn’t have to contemplate.

We asked the leading organization in Australia Fight for the Reef some questions on what is going on over there and how the Queensland government are operating.

What other long-term goals by the Queensland government conflict with and affect the environment?

The current Queensland governement is very pro-development. There are a number of policies that have the potential to impact the marine environment. These cover such issues as coastal development, agricultural run-off, mining, and the export of resources and other commodities.

How are the Queensland government able to bypass world heritage status of the great barrier reef?

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a World Heritage Area; therefore it is jointly managed by the Federal government and the Queensland state government. The Queensland government manages the QLD coastline, and jointly manages the coastal waters of the GBR with the Federal government. The Federal government must also approve any development that will impact the World Heritage Area.

The Queensland government has been watering down laws that protect Queensland’s environment to rush through new developments. For example, in 2012 the Queensland Government passed the “Green Tape Reduction Act”, which fast tracks approvals for massive developments. They are changing wording which waters down legislative protection and hastening development approvals with no outlook for the long term protection and strategic management of the GBR.

The actions by both governments triggered a visit from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s scientific advisors in 2012. The committee has put both state and federal government on notice that if they don’t stop approving these developments then the Great Barrier Reef will be listed as “World Heritage in danger”.

The new Federal Coalition government is in the process of giving environmental approval powers to the state government, which would be disastrous as the Queensland government is rushing through these developments and not considering the true environmental impacts.

It is clear that the Queensland government care little about the environment, is there much environmental education within Queensland and Australia?

There are a number of conservation ngos working hard to raise awareness and educate the public about environmental issues in qld and Australia. Please see answer below for examples of NGO’s working specifically on on the save the reef topic.

What action and campaigns are happening right now in Australia and what can people overseas do to help?

There are other major Non-Government Organisations all working together including Greenpeace, Get Up, Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Queensland Conservation Council. There are also many community and regional groups working collaboratively to save the Reef (e.g. Gladstone Conservation Council, North Queensland Conservation Council, Mackay Conservation Group, Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, Capricorn Conservation Council, Abbot Point Action Group, Keppel and Fitzroy Delta Alliance).

Each organisation is focusing on a separate issue. As a Marine Based Organisation that has been protecting the Great Barrier Reef for almost 50 years, we are concentrating on things that will directly affect the GBR, such as dredging, mega port expansions (and associated infrastructure) and shipping.

As far as helping overseas, spreading the word on the issues impacting the reef will help, you an also visit the Fight for the Reef Website and enter your email address to join the fight for the reef. We will then keep you up to date on the campaign and let you know when we need your help in taking action. You can also ‘like’ the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Fight for the Reef pages on Facebook to be kept up to date on our marine campaigns, get links to our e-petitions as they come up, get in touch with other reef campaigners, and communicate with the Fight for the Reef team. Finally, you can visit the Australian Marine Conservation Society Website and join our mailing list to stay up to date with all things going on in our oceans and while you’re there, click on our ‘Act’ section to sign petitions to help protect our precious marine life in Australia.