"Today is a good day to be Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek. UNESCO, the
United Nations body expected to vote on whether to list the Great Barrier Reef
as “in danger”, instead deferred the decision for another year. This, an
insider told French newspaper Le Monde
, was largely due to the change in
approach between the former Coalition government and Labor.
“It’s a bit like night and day,” the insider said – which was promptly included
in Plibersek’s media release.
So, it’s a good day for the government. But is it a good day for the reef? No.
The longstanding threats to the world’s largest coral ecosystem are still
there, from agricultural runoff, to shipping pollution, to fisheries, although
we have seen improvement in areas such as water quality.
But any incremental improvement will be for naught if we don’t respond to the
big one – climate change – with the necessary urgency. This year has seen
record-breaking heat and extreme weather, with intense heating of the oceans
during the northern summer. These intense marine heatwaves have devastated
efforts to regrow or protect coral in places like Florida. And our own summer
is just around the corner.
It is not hyperbole to say the next two years are likely to be very bad for the
Great Barrier Reef. It’s already enduring a winter marine heatwave. Background
warming primes the reef for mass coral bleaching and death. We’ve already
experienced this in 2016-17, which brought back-to-back global mass coral
bleaching and mortality events including on the Great Barrier Reef. We can
expect more as global temperatures continue to soar.
While the government may congratulate itself on not being the previous one,
it’s nowhere near enough. We’re facing D-Day for the reef, as for many other
ecosystems. Incrementalism and politics as usual are simply not going to be
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics