Coal dust has spread throughout the Great Barrier Reef and exceeds toxic levels near the shore, a Senate inquiry has heard. Senators are touring Queensland this week to examine how the Australian and Queensland governments manage the reef, as Unesco threatens to list it as a World Heritage site in danger.
Researchers appeared before an Australian Senate committee this week to review how federal and local governments have managed the reef. What they discovered is that the world’s largest coral reef system is in bad shape. Professor Peter Mumby of the Marine Spatial Ecology Lab at the University of Queensland said that the Great Barrier Reef will be “pretty ugly” by 2050.
“The reef is in the worse [sic] state it’s ever been in since records began,” Mumby told the committee, according to the Australian Associated Press. Within 40 years, he expects, the Great Barrier Reef will lose populations of marine life and will feature far more seaweed and algae where coral once flourished.
Professor Terry Hughes, of James Cook University, says a “damning” new report from the university shows coastal sediments offshore of the Hay Point coal port are contaminated with coal residues that exceed Australian guidelines. Hughes, who is also the director of the Australian Research Council center of excellence for coral reef studies, said the report also found coal dust had spread hundreds of kilometers from ports.
“It has now accumulated everywhere on the Great Barrier Reef, not just near dredging sites or near the ports themselves, and it is exceeding toxic levels in near-shore locations,” he told the inquiry, which sat in Townsville on Wednesday. “I think this new evidence is sufficient that recently issued permits to undertake dredging should be revoked.”
The Australian Institute of Marine Science went so far as to accuse the government of de-emphasizing the declining health of the reef in recent assessments.
“Almost all of the ‘bad news’ regarding status and trend is contained somewhere within the chapters of the document, however the summaries of chapters tend to either downplay or leave the bad news until the end of the sections,” said John Gunn, chief executive of the institute.
While this week’s Senate committee was focused on management of the reef, there are additional threats facing the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this year, a University of Queensland report indicated that the reef will not be able to recover from “irreversible” damage caused by climate change. Read more about the story here.