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Push to ‘move mountains’ to fix reef’s critical diagnosis

By Ray White Whitsunday

A CALL is ringing out from the Whitsundays for the government to “move mountains” like it has during COVID-19 to take action that will help rehabilitate the Great Barrier Reef from its current critical diagnosis.

The findings of the IUCN’s World Heritage Outlook were released earlier this month and showed the reef faces irreversible loss if urgent and large-scale conservation measures are not taken now.

Whitsunday Conservation Council committee member Tony Fontes said he was shocked but not surprised to learn about the critical diagnosis.

He hopes it will instil some “oomph” in leaders who have the power to take action on climate change.

Mr Fontes said Cyclone Debbie had changed the face of the reef and while the Whitsundays had been spared the severe bleaching seen in other areas, it was not bouncing back from other challenges as expected.

“When you dive and snorkel you don’t see a lot of bleaching, I haven’t seen a lot over the past 10 years but it has increased,” he said.

“A lot of bays damaged by Debbie are not coming back as you thought they would.

“The reef is resilient. It’s designed to bounce back from major physical blows such as a cyclone but it’s much slower if it’s not healthy.

“Heat stress is one of the things that will reduce the coral’s ability to rebound.”

The IUCN’s findings identified climate change as a major threat along with poor water quality from catchment run-off, coastal developments, fishing and the crown-of-thorns starfish.

“Of most concern are ocean warming and acidification and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events,” the assessment stated.

Tony Fontes snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef.

Mr Fontes said the physical state of the reef was not the only thing at stake, as the World Heritage status of the natural beauty could be in jeopardy.

“These are the people that work with the World Heritage listing,” he said.

“They’re saying the values of the reef have diminished.

“For the tourism industry that’s the last thing they need, it’s a valuable listing to hang on your door.

“With COVID-19 knocking a hole in 2020, the last thing the tourism industry needs to worry about is the reef loses its marketability.

“That hasn’t happened but that’s the other thing to come out of the declaration.”

Mr Fontes said there was no short-term solution however the world had the technology needed to mitigate climate change and Australia must take advantage of it.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s national treasures. Photo: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

He said while there was good work being done on reef restoration in the Whitsundays, it was a band aid solution unless the overarching issue of climate change was addressed.

“We need to continue building reef resilience, all the programs couldn’t have come at a better time,” Mr Fontes said.

“We can’t just sit back and say we’re a small player in regards to creating carbon emissions.

“We’ve got much more to lose, Australia is very vulnerable with climate change.

“I focus on the reef, it is certainly being impacted but we can’t ignore the bushfires, the floods and cyclones and everything else.”

Mr Fontes said the solution needed to be multifaceted and there needed to be a stronger push towards renewables, but the government needed to “move mountains” with climate change like it did with COVID-19.

“We’ve got the technology today to go 100 per cent renewable by 2030 if we really put our minds to it and that’s the kind of push we need,” he said.

Mr Fontes said the Whitsundays was also in the process of going carbon neutral, with a project between the council and conservation groups also in the pipeline to move the marine tourism industry to carbon neutral.

“The tourism industry is going to flourish if they’re the greenest destination in Australia and there’s Cairns going for it and Port Douglas going for it,” he said.

“What a feather in the cap it’ll be.”

Source: Whitsunday Times

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