The imminent death of the Great Barrier Reef

In 2016, there was an obituary written for the Great Barrier Reef. The cause of death: climate change and ocean acidification. It died at the age of 25 million.

Australian scientists confirmed this is not far from the truth —  if drastic action to save the reef is not taken. In a media release by the James Cook University, scientists conducted a survey last year in which they recorded severe coral bleaching across huge tracts of the Reef. They completed aerial surveys along its entire length. Reports said that while bleaching was most severe in the northern third of the Reef, the middle third has experienced the most intense coral bleaching.

Orpheus Island bleaching. Image: Greg Torda

Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who undertook the aerial surveys in both 2016 and 2017, said the combined impact of this back-to-back bleaching stretches for 1,500 km (900 miles), leaving only the southern third unscathed.

The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures — even without the effects of El Niño conditions.

The aerial surveys in 2017 covered more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles) and scored nearly 800 individual coral reefs closely matching the aerial surveys in 2016 that were carried out by the same two observers.

Dr. James Kerry, who also undertook the aerial surveys, explains further, “this is the fourth time the Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely – in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals, but in the severe central region we anticipate high levels of coral loss.”

It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”

Coupled with the 2017 mass bleaching event, Tropical Cyclone Debbie struck a corridor of the Great Barrier Reef at the end of March. The intense, slow-moving system was likely to have caused varying levels of damage along a path up to 100 km in width. Any cooling effects related to the cyclone are likely to be negligible in relation to the damage it caused, which unfortunately struck a section of the reef that had largely escaped the worst of the bleaching.

“Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts,” explains Prof. Hughes. “Without a doubt the most pressing of these is global warming. As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years.”

‘Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing.”

Mining and Fossil Fuels

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) blasts the mining and fossil fuels industry as well as the lack of government action. Mining and burning of fossil fuels– like coal – are warming the oceans and killing the reef, the Foundation claims.

Kelly O’Shanassy, ACF director said this is a global tragedy blaming the Australian government and coal companies for undermining action on global warming.

O’Shanassy said in order to have any chance of saving the rest of the reef, there should be a stop in digging up and burning coal and take the alternative — to rapidly repower Australia with clean energy.

“We are heartbroken, and furious. But we will not stop speaking out, showing up and holding people accountable for their decisions,” she said adding:

“The death of so much of our reef was not an accident. It was conscious choice. The government and coal companies knew this was coming yet for years they chose to undermine action on global warming. They laughed as they threw coal around Parliament.”

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Deutsche bank rebuffs Adani’s funding request

The Deutsche Bank of Germany announced it will not lend money to the Indian mining firm Adani Group to finance the development of Abbot Point Terminal I. The decision came after an AGM held on Thrusday.

We stress that we take the future of the Great Barrier Reef very seriously. We observe that there is no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point. Since our guidance requires such a consensus as a minimum, we would not consider a financing request. – Deutsche Bank Group

Deutsche Bank Group convenes AGM 2014 (Photo: Deutsche Bank Group FB)

Adani is one of the last remaining investors standing for the port terminal, along with another Indian firm, GVK Group.

Other investors have long abandoned their stakes, including mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Lend Lease and Anglo American. Market and financial analysts said the multi-billion dollar investment is unfeasible due to the end of the mining boom, with the downward spiraling of coal market prices worldwide. Galilee Basin in northern Queensland, where coal will be extracted,is also extremely remote and without basic infrastructure.

Tony Brown, tour operator for the Whitsundays, speaks at the bank’s AGM 2014 (Photo: Market Forces)

Australian mining goddess Gina Rinehart, herself, sold most of her coal assets in 2011. GVK bought them.

But despite Indian interests, the project has been stalled for two years. Adani is required to complete all environmental approvals and then raise AU $8 billion of additional debt and equity financing, and hence allow construction to commence on the Carmichael coal, rail and port proposal. Read the scale and magnitude of funding HERE.

There are speculations that the two companies tried to sell their equity holdings. GVK allegedly offered Coal India Ltd, but was rebuffed due to its uncommercial value. Adani is also rumoured to have approached several Chinese firms, including China Railway Corp.

Early this month, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) warned investors it is too risky to invest in the project. Local banks which were appointed to finance the project include National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, and Westpac Banking Corp- on top of a few other international banks.

Tim Buckley , director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said that India cannot afford the price of imported coal:

India’s perilous economic and financial situation creates further uncertainty for companies relying on its ability and willingness to import coal, with its associated implications for inflation, current account deficits, economic instability and energy security’.

He also said that “imported coal would require double the current price of India’s wholesale electricity, which categorically discredits the nonsense argument that it might alleviate India’s energy poverty.” Buckley has produced detailed reports on Adani and GVK.

Whitsundays tour operator Tony Brown joins the rally in Germany (Photo: Market Forces)

Various environmental and civic groups have written the Deutsche Bank not to lend Adani.  Australian-base civic groups also linked with their European counterparts to “pressure” the bank. Some travel operators in Queensland further travelled to Germany to join the rally.

At the end of the AGM on Thrusday, the bank released the Deutsche Bank’s Environmental and Social Reputational Risk Framework (ES Framework), which stipulates the bank’s  environmental and social due diligence as an integral part of the approval process for doing business.

One of the specific guidelines recently adopted addresses activities in the close proximity to World Heritage Sites. It precludes transactions within or in close proximity to World Heritage Site unless there is a prior consensus between the relevant Government and UNESCO that such operations will not adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Site. This implies that we would not consider a request to finance an expansion unless we had the assurance of both the government and UNESCO that it would not adversely affect the Value of the Site.

Read: Deutsch Bank official stand and UNESCO’s State of Conservation

Blog Link: The Green Journal/ Asian Correspondent

Post-Easter

Australia has gone through a long weekend over Easter period and business has just resumed today.

Nonetheless, the past days had not been completely quiet. Issues on the rights of asylum seekers rage on while civic activism continues.

In NSW, residents fear about gas fracking and contamination while in Queensland, conservation groups rally against massive industrialization along the Great Barrier Reef. Tasmania Wilderness remains under threat as the Tony Abbott Government changed its mind about protecting the world heritage forested areas. There is a ray of hope in Western Australia as a result of the recently held election. However, the fight to protect the rights of sharks from culling is expected to go on.

Whales in the Southern Ocean, meanwhile, can enjoy a peaceful and safe interlude while the Japanese harpoons had lost their case in the international court. They are back home pondering what to do next and it is possible they will come back to pursue their “scientific research”.

I will resume my writing soon.

Indian groups keep stake in Abbot Point, reef dumping

Indian mining groups –  Adani and GVK-Hancock –  have not waivered to drop their stakes in the controversial Abbot Point Port terminals in Northern Queensland.

The rest had already dropped the deal, including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Anglo American is the latest to announce it is walking away.

Abbot Point in Northern Queensland (Photo: NQBPC)

BHP Billiton has formally withdrawn from the $5 billion worth of project as the preferred developer of Terminal 2  in 2012. It also pulled out of building a rail line linking the port with Bowen Basin mines.

Early on, doubt has been cast over the feasibility of the project.

The recent decision by Anglo American re-affirms the unfeasibility of the project. The firm announced that oversupply of coal in the world market has dampen prices.

As of its December 2013 financial records, “metallurgical coal saw underlying operating profit fall 89% to $46m, while thermal coal profits fell 32% to $541m as a result of lower realised prices.”

Bloomberg’s writer, Elisabeth Berhmann, quoted a Sydney-based commodity analyst from Goldman Sachs Groups Inc as saying, “For these projects to be attractive investments, you need to be quite bullish about thermal coal prices….If you’re a power company, and you’re wanting to secure sources of coal, there’s plenty of coal in the market.”

Mining Australia notes the expansion would see four terminals costing $6.2 billion which would provide an extra annual capacity of 120 million tonnes. this would also support the development of mines in the Bowen, Surat, and Galilee Basins.

Adani and GVK Hancock, however, are all out to develop Terminal 0 and Terminal 3, respectively.

Josh Euler, manager for corporate affairs at GVK Hancock, welcomes the decision to go ahead with the expansion. He said in a  press statement , “This is a significant milestone in developing our Galilee Basin coal projects, which represent the creation of over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and over $40 billion in taxes and royalties.” .

Double disadvantage

Amid bearish coal market prices, environmental groups have denounced the Government’s decision due to its high risk posing an irreversible damage to the world heritage site. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the reef marine park

The Australian public has been outraged with the approval. Last year, the United Nations downgraded the world heritage site into the endangered list.

Protesters in mascots against dumping on the reef. (Photo: AAP)

GBRMPA expedited a crisis communication in an attempt to ‘enlighten’ and ‘pacify’ the public.. Its chairman, Russell Reichelt,  has written an article at the academic online paper –The Conversation –  to justify the approval. He said the decision is based on comprehensive study and sound judgment that will not do any lasting harm to the heritage site. Discussion has been open to the public since March 3. Reichelt answers the queries himself although readers– composed of engineers, scientists, researchers, and ordinary citizens — are neither convinced nor impressed with the attempt to “gloss over” the real issue.

Observers said, there is something fishy at the sudden turn around of decision considering the warnings over sediments dumping.

Greenpeace  also found a document that questions the integrity of the decision. It shows that GBRMPA feared the dumping would annihilate the barrier reef. However, the Environment Department ignored the warnings and pressured the marine park authority.

Greenpeace campaign poster against Adani group

Indian firms- the culprit

Furious tour operators and Greenpeace are pointing fingers at the Indian mining tycoons as the culprit of an impending catastrophic disaster awaiting the vast expanse of corals.

Association of Marine Park Tour Operators President Colin McKenzie, the peak industry lobby group covering tourism in the World Heritage-listed reef region, accused the marine park authority of pandering to politicians and for allowing Adani group to undertake a risky business.

“The biggest culprit is Adani, an Indian corporation that wants to build Australia’s biggest coal mine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland, and needs the dredging to allow huge coal ships to access their proposed new coal terminal at Abbot Point to send their coal overseas,” Greenpeace said.

Related story HERE

Largest port to kill the Barrier Reef

The “Asian Century” has arrived in Queensland. The world’s largest port will rise soon that will pave the link between the Australian state and Asian market– India in particular.

Aerial view Abbot Point T2 and T3

Aerial view Abbot Point T2 and T3

The Federal government gave the green light to the massive expansion of three major port terminals at Abbot Point, 26 km north of Bowen in Central Queensland– positioned to become one of the world’s largest industrial sea ports.

The approval gives Adani Enterprises Pty. Ltd. and GVK, among other mining companies, a breakthrough in the multi-billion coal industry which will exploit the potential of the coal-rich Galilee Basin.

Adani’s most recent performance at T0

Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced the decision on Tuesday after a ”rigid assessment” and the project’s environmental impacts. After a long delay, the minister approved four Queensland projects under the National Environmental Law, including the capital dredging program for the proposed Terminals 0, 2 and 3 at the Port of Abbot Point, the Adani T0 project, the Arrow Liquefied Natural Gas Facility on Curtis Island, and the Arrow Gas Transmission Pipeline to Curtis Island. The terminals will provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the ”bullish” coal industry within the Galilee Basin.

The approval of Terminal 0 (T0) is sure to boost Adani’s ambitious prospect to ship the coal to India. “Coal from this project will predominantly service the Indian market,”  Adani admitted. The group acquired the terminal for about two billion Australian dollars under a 99-year lease in 2011. T0 is estimated to have a 70 metric tonnes per annum mtpa (35 mtpa x two stages) handling capacity. T2 will be built by an Australian-own company, while T3 will be undertaken by GVK.

But the New York Times reported Adani bought the port in 2011 for 1.8 billion Australian dollars taking advantage of the area still recovering from a series of floods.

 “Abbott Point is our contribution to India’s global ambitions,” said Gautam Adani, chair of Adani. Adani. “An Indian billionaire and real estate magnate, runs the largest private sector coal importer in India, a country hungry for energy resources. He already has other investments in Queensland….”

The T0 alone is projected to generate  a financial value of A$ 1.4 – 2.8 billion annually in gross revenue which will contribute significantly to the Queensland and Australian economy. It will directly benefit Bowen locality and the wider Whitsunday region, Adani said in its presentation paper earlier this year.

Estimated employment stands at 500 jobs in construction and 200-250 jobs in operation, while it provides opportunity for expansion of permanent working population at the Port of Abbot Point. This projection, however, is based on the estimated export of thermal coal from Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine and Abbot Point Coal Terminal 0 projects.

GVK, on the other hand, will undertake the expansion of  T3  port facilities and Galilee Basin coal assets including the Alpha, Alpha West and Kevin’s Corner coal projects. It will also construct a rail connection to the Abbot Point Port. “Together with the previously received clearances for the Alpha mine, the rail to Abbot Point ,GVK Hancock has solidified its leading position in the Galilee Basin of Queensland, Australia, ” the company said in a press release.

GV Sanjay Reddy, Vice Chairman  of the GVK Power & Infrastructure Limited, said the approval will enable the “provision of billions of tonnes of high quality, low sulphur, low ash, and cleaner burning coal for consumption in the Indian and Asian market.” He added, “this approval takes our projects in to the final stageof project development and we look forward to successfully developing and consolidating our position as the leading Indian infrastructure development company.”

The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation  (NQBC) has been commissioned as the port authority responsible for managing the project.

The extensive industrial projects along the eastern coast of Queensland. The darker blue line sketches the boundary of the world heritage area (Image: Fight for the Reef)

State Premier strengthens economic ties with India

The Galilee Basin is strengthening the economic ties between Queensland and India. Premier Campbell Newman admitted the potential of the region which could be a bigger contributor to Queensland’s economy than the coal seam gas industry.

Newman had visited Adani’s operation in India and believes in the export potential of the region. Further, he considers a long-term strategic business partnership with Indian companies. Mining Australia quoted him as saying, “They want coal to come for their thermal power stations day in, day out, week in, week out, month after month, for not 10 years or 20 years or 50 years; they want it to come for 70 to 100 years” .

On Gautam Adani, Newman is mesmerized with his business empire-building enthusiasm: “He owns the power lines, he owns the retail, he wants that coal. Now, the current coal price is not really a big thing in his calculations,” Newman said. “What he wants is supply security, and he wants to get that supply chain cost down as low as possible.”

Environmental concerns

Greenpeace lambasts the dredging and dumping of industrial waste into the vicinity of the reef.

Environmental groups, however, are enraged with the developments.

The terminals will require dredging of about three million cubic meters of sediments from the bottom of the sea. Local communities and environmental groups are outraged on how and where would the dredging spoils be dumped. The long-term effect after the area after the mining projects is also a matter of concern.

Hunt said he made an agreement with the Gladstone Ports Authority that they will not dispose of up to 12 million cubic metres of spoil within the Marine Park, but will instead use the material for land infill.

Hunt and Newman are already under fire from Green groups. The WWF, for one, is now pressing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park not to issue a permit to the NQBPC to dump the dredge spoil into the reef waters.

The WWF-Australia, in partnership with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, has also launched a nationwide and international campaign, Fight for the Reef, that educates people about the implication of the large-scale industrialization of Australia’s east coast- more significantly its impact on the world-listed heritage site – the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland granny walks 1200 km to Save the Reef

A 72 year-old grandmother ended her 1,200 km-walk from Cairns to Gladstone in Queensland on Thursday last week to remind Australian voters to think about the Great Barrier Reef.

June Norman completes her 1,200 km walk to Save the Reef.

June Norman is the hero of the day for having just completed her 80-day journey. She took the Reef Walk 2013 from her hometown Cairns to raise awareness of the impacts of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration projects and the LNG export industries to the Great Barrier Reef.

She arrived in Gladstone with a parade of colourful banners. She hopes that people will think about the election and choose candidates who care about the reef. She said voters should not pick the same old political party, but find out if their policies include the reef. The federal election has been set on Sept. 7.

This is what she has to say about her 80-day journey:

“I started this journey more than a year ago, with planning and contacting other concerned people, tourist operators and fishermen all along the coast. The last few months have been some of the best days of my life. Every day I met wonderful people with passion to protect the Reef.”

“One thing life has taught me is there is nothing more important than family, and this journey has been one small thing I can do for my grandchildren. It’s what every mother wants, a good future for their children, and I want my grand kids to enjoy the world and the Great Barrier Reef like I have.”

“I just don’t understand, why are we allowing international companies to come here and destroy this beautiful world heritage reef. The dredging in Gladstone should be a warning to us all, we will see dead dugong and turtles all along the Queensland coast if we don’t stop the new coal and gas ports.”

“All I ask is that Mr Campbell Newman and Mr Kevin Rudd stop for just one day and take a trip to the reef. Stop and feel its beauty. Perhaps then they might consider stopping this madness”

Climate change and rapid industrialisation are putting the Great Barrier Reef under enormous pressure. With the growing commitment to coal export markets and CSG industry, new major coal ports are underway. From Gladstone and the Fitzroy Delta to Abbot Point near Mackay require millions of tonnes of sea bed dredging that is impacting turtles, dugong, and dolphins.

The Friends of the Earth, in a joint statement with Norman said the cumulative impacts of LNG and coal projects to the reef have not been considered or quantified. The pace of industrialisation is so rapid that marine turtles could disappear before their life cycle is understood. Investigations are rapidly under way to protect Gladstone’s Fitzroy Delta Subfin Dolphin before port development begins.

Reef Walk is a message that conveys the hopes of many Australians wanting big steps to be taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is home to countless marine species and the work place of thousands of Queenslanders supporting the tourism sector.

Meanwhile, Greens leader Christine Milne will be announcing the party’s plan to save the Great Barrier Reef in Airlie Beach on Friday. She will be flying over Abbot Point to see the area to be impacted by the big mining companies if the Queensland Government continues to allow them to operate. (On Friday, the Greens announced it has launched a $176 million rescue package to protect the Great Barrier Reef from mining.)

The Greens said neither of the old parties have ever refused a coal or gas mining proposal yet but the Greens will continue to do everything in its power to stop the approval of the Abbot Point coal port expansion and save the Great Barrier Reef from becoming a dredging dump ground and shipping super highway for the big mining companies.

June Norman with her Reef Walk 2013 crew.

“Only the Greens can be trusted to stand up to the big mining companies to protect the Great Barrier Reef, with our  policy of no new Reef dredging or dumping,” Senator Larissa Waters said in a party statement.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Earth Day Australia?

The United States joins countries around the world today in commemorating Earth Day. Ever since I was involved in the first Earth Day in Massachusetts, way back in 1970, this has always been a day to reflect on our environmental challenges and our responsibility to safeguard our God-given natural resources on a fragile planet we share with the rest of humanity and which we must protect for future generations.

– John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 22, 2013

Hands on a globe

Earth Day (Photo: Supplied)

The day passed without notice. Even the mailboxes have not got anything in regard to an event observing Earth Day. Has Australia dropped this event from its calendar? Or  has it been easier to organise an Earth Hour (23 March) which it joined several weeks ago?

The writer of Time said,

It’s Earth Day , though you could be forgiven if you missed it. The annual event doesn’t quite have the same energy as it once did—especially not compared to the first Earth Day 23 years ago.

Yes, Green groups are caught up in dealing with more pressing issues – forestry agreement in Tasmania, saving the Great Barrier Reef from fracking and drilling, dirty coal, alternative energy source, overfishing, etc. Meanwhile, the shelving of Woodside’s LNG in Broome gives a major relief to many residents and communities in WA although businesses are quite disappointed.

WordPress and National Geographic sent the reminders just today– April 22 is Earth Day!

Transfer of power to State poses threat to environment

This might be a good news for Santos, Chevron, Woodside, Shell, BHP Billiton, ExxonMobil, Origin, Ta Ann—name it—and all those other giants engaged in the business of “exploiting” Australia’s natural resources. They will have more freedom to dig and rig, build dams, or haul native logs—if the power to enforce environmental laws will be transferred from the Federal Government to the State Government.

Undated photo shows BHP Billiton running this machine at Mt Newman mine in Western Australia. (AP Photo/BHP Billiton,HO)

The Council of Australian Governments earlier this year agreed to reform controversial environmental laws. It proposes changes that would give states autonomy to take control over local environmental laws.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)  administered by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts covers the assessment and approval process of national environmental and cultural concerns. It also administers specific Acts that oversee activities relating to marine resources, importing, heritage issues, hazardous waste, and fuel quality.

State and territory environment laws apply to specific business activities and are administered by both state and local governments in the form of licences and permits.

The plan to hand over control of national environmental powers to state and territory governments has outraged the Greens. Last month, an alliance of more than 35 environmental organisations sent more than 10,000 petition signatures to Environment Minister Tony Burke to oppose the proposals.

The Wilderness Society of Australia warned that without Federal powers to override the states, places of high conservation values would be exposed to exploitation. This is the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island, for example. If left to the State Government, they would have been destroyed, the group said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) notes that in the past, under the national environment law, the Federal Government has been able to save  the Great Barrier Reef from State Government plans to allow oil rigs.

However, the reef is still at risk from climate change, catchment run-off, coastal developments and shipping. Recent reports show it has lost 50 per cent of its coral cover since 1985.


Protestors at Franklin Dam site in 1982. In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission announced plan to build Franklin Dam, but failed. In 1982, the Federal Government declared the area as a World Heritage Site. (Photo: Tasmania Wilderness Society/National Archive of Australia)

Lonergan Research poll in November said the vast majority of Australians, about 85 per cent, believe the Federal Government should be able to block or make changes to major projects that could damage the environment.

Last week, the plan sounded to have been resolved. The Wilderness Society thought it could sit back and relax—at least for now. In a press release dated 7 December, the Society said the Federal Government has saved business and environmental organisations from a legislative and litigation nightmare by not handing over environmental approval powers to the states.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders noted, “The business community has avoided a train wreck. The Federal Government seems to have recognised that our environment is essential to our national interest.”

Now is the time to put in place a robust system that guarantees the highest level protection of areas of national and international significance and for the Federal Government to continue to be the guardians of those values.

Greenpeace flashes a banner to support a UN team dispatched to assess the Great Barrier Reef in early 2012.

However, the ACF today pushed the red button: “Our federal environment laws – the last resort of protection for our precious places and species – are under attack.” Despite a concerted campaign of environmental organisations, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will put the plan on hold till next April, Chief Executive Office Don Henry said in a statement circulated by email. ACF Director of Strategic Ideas Charles Berger also noted, “the plan is not completely off the table and big business is bound to push the government to reconsider.”

You can bet big business will be pushing these changes, which would make it easier for developers and miners to irreparably damage reefs, wetlands and heritage areas by taking away the national layer of scrutiny and review.

So the fight to pressure politicians not to allow businesses to exploit the environment is expected to go on until the Government will “dump this reckless idea for good, “ the ACF said.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Greenies win for the world’s largest marine sanctuary

It does not happen quite often for the greenies to celebrate. But today, there is reason for euphoria and optimism as the Federal Government breaks the news of making Australia’s vast stretch of seas and oceans as a national reserve.

The whale shark, white shark, humpback whale, and other world’s largest fish inhabit the North-west and South-east regions. (Photo: Supplied)

Environment Minister Tony Burke said more than 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean environment will be declared as a national marine reserve networks– a historic win since the plan was incubated a decade ago. This plan will position Australian waters to be the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

Minister Burke will soon forward his recommendations to the Governor General. He said “Australia is a world leader when it comes to protecting our oceans, and so we should be, we’ve got responsibility for more of the ocean than almost any other country on Earth.”

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), a leading environmental advocacy group, likewise, said people’s power made this development possible with 450,000 made submissions to Minister Burke.

Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs in the Temperate East Network are home to the critically endangered east coast population of grey nurse shark and the vulnerable white shark. (Photo: Australian Government)

“We look forward to the Government bedding down final management arrangements for the new marine parks as soon as possible, so that all Australians can begin to enjoy the benefits that marine protection will deliver now and into the future,” WFF Marine Campaigner Jenita Enevoldsen said.

A June poll showed that 70 per cent of Australians supported the government’s marine reserves plan ‑ the most decision the government has made. This project started in early 2000’s under a series of comprehensive community consultations, deliberations and science-based region planning.

“These final lines on maps around our sea country cover and protect a wide range of important habitats including coral reefs, seagrass beds, sponge gardens and hundreds of threatened species of whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles, sea lions and sea dragons,” Enevoldsen said.

Giant Green Turtle in the Coral Sea on Queensland. (Photo: Supplied)

Giant Green Turtle in the Coral Sea on Queensland. (Photo: Supplied)

Australia’s oceans is the home to many of the world’s endangered marine animals including the Green Turtle, the Blue Whale, the Southern Right Whale, the Australian Sea Lion and the whale shark.

While it is a big win for conservationists, the marine sanctuary means commerical and industrial activities around the area will be limited, including recreation, commercial fishing, and gas exploration ventures.

However, the Government recognises that there will be impacts on some fishers and it will support those who are affected

A national marine reserve will include the vast stretch of the continent. (Photo: Australian Government)

New marine reserves have been proclaimed in five of Australia’s six large marine regions. The reserves in the South-east region were proclaimed in 2007.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland slams UNESCO, defends gas on the barrier reef

UNESCO has released its damning environmental report on the Great Barrier Reef, but the Queensland State Government hits back saying the report poses an obstacle to the multi-billion dollar seam gas business.

The report came in time when the mineral boom is underway and the Queensland Government is excited about financial gains. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his Government understands the issues raised in the report but could not accommodate some of its chief recommendations, News Corp. reports.

Newman said his government is in coal business and he is not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.

UNESCO sent a team of experts in March to assess the status of the reef confronted by both natural and man-made threats. While natural threats could be beyond control, the impact of the latter can be minimised if the Queensland Government can review and adopt strategic solutions.

The international body said the World Heritage listed site is under enormous pressure amid increased developmental activities, including additional port infrastructures in and around the Great Barrier Reef and ongoing management of major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants at Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour.

The dredging in Gladstone Harbour for the seam gas has been blamed by local environmentalists for the area’s poor water quality and a skin disease affecting marine life. Green activists say dredging has adversely affected whales and dugongs in the area.

UNESCO recommended to the State Government to stop port facilities expansions and to undertake a comprehensive review and strategic solutions to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the reef.

It warned the reef could officially be listed “in danger” if the federal Government fails to convince the international body it has improved its performance before February next year.

Whether Queensland would be able to help improve environmental conditions of the reef or not, both state and federal governments have already given mineral explorations a go. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke supports the developmental projects saying the approval of applications has been in full swing. He said there was not much he could do to prevent development applications already in progress.

Mining magnates Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart have likewise secured government’s approval of their mining ventures in Queensland. Further, the two mining lords have  been pressuring the Government to allow them to build the world’s largest coal export facility right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The facility is envisioned  to double Australia’s coal exports. The mining moguls expect to hear of Government’s decision in 36 weeks time, GetUp noted.

GetUp, an activist group, said mining billionaires are used to getting their way,” but they’re not the only ones who know how to fight.”  The group has forged a tie up with Greenpeace and BankTrack to undertake an advertising campaign in key financial market in Asia and India to warn potential investors not to invest in these projects.

It’s not just UNESCO who are against the massive expansion of coal and coal seam gas facilities. We’ve just released an opinion poll that found 79 per cent of  Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef’s recognised heritage area — and that was before UNESCO’s  scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.

GetUp is optimistic the ad campaign will work.  It claims that  in 2009, it funded ads in the European Financial Times to discourage potential investors who were previously considering to fund Gunns’ pulp mill in Tasmania.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent