Human being and fish can coexist peacefully

… or at least that seems to be what Australia’s Opposition leader thinks would happen if he stopped the expansion of marine protected areas in Australian waters:

In a policy aimed at marginal Queensland seats, Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ”immediately suspend the marine protection process which is threatening the livelihoods of many people in the fishing industry and many people in the tourism industry”.

”All of us want to see appropriate environmental protection, but man and nature have to live together,” Mr Abbott said as he toured the seat of Dawson, in Mackay, which is held by Labor by 2.6 per cent.

Citing “Real action to protect our marine environments and fishing communities” , Mr Abbott wants to balance environmental protection with economic growth by first suspending the marine protected area process. But doesn’t tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park  generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy annually?

The GBRMP re-zoning that resulted in an increase in strict protection from 4.5% to over 30% was of course intiated under the previous Howard government, and undertaken through a comprehensive research and consultation process. According to Mr Abbott, things have  gone awry since then, although so far the details on this are scanty.

Coalition policy would require consideration of peer reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity before future decisions are made about marine park establishment:

“We would not be interested in just putting lines on maps. If there’s something out there that needs to be protected, if it’s iconic and needs protection, we’d want to see the science and that science would have to be peer-reviewed.”

Fortunately, there is already a lot out there to suggest that the marine environment is under threat, fishing kills fish and that marine parks have benefits for biodiversity and maintaining fish stocks. Conservation planning software used world wide, and developed in Queensland, is used to assist in the creation of marine parks  in a way that seeks to achieve protection for biodiversity while balancing socio-economic objectives.  The science is light years ahead of lines on maps (although, this can be helpful as part of the community consultation process).

It’s encouraging to see the high regard that Mr Abbott places upon peer reviewed science on this issue, so for someone who gets his ‘facts’ about climate change from Heaven + Earth, perhaps a bit of consistency wouldn’t go astray?

Increasingly bleak future for the Great Barrier Reef?

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The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released it’s Outlook Report 2009 today (direct link to PDF’s here). The report is a independently peer reviewed assessement of the impacts of climate change, catchment runoff, fishing, coastal development and an array of other impacts on the reef. Alongside the report comes the signing of a new State and Federal Government plan to protect the GBR, tightening regulations for farmers and improving water quality in the GBR lagoon:

“This is about a renewed plan that is underpinned by new and ambitious targets,” Ms Bligh told Parliament today.

“… Through the measures identified in the renewed reef plan we aim by 2013 to halve the runoff of harmful nutrients and pesticides and ensure at least 80 per cent of agricultural enterprises and 50 per cent of grazing enterprises have adopted land management practices that will reduce runoff.”

Ms Bligh said the reef’s resilience had to be built up so it could cope with the effects of climate change, predicted to cause more frequent coral bleaching among other things.

“The poor quality of water running into the reef from catchments has been identified in report after report as a major threat,” she said.

Ms Bligh said two million people visited the coast between Bundaberg and Cairns each year, spending more than $5 million and underpinning 50,000 jobs in the tourism industry alone.

Fisheries contribute a further $290 million annually to the economy, she said.

“We must strike a delicate balance – a balance between making the most of this natural asset and affording it every protection possible,” she said. (Read More)

Economic cost of Great Barrier Reef bleaching exceeds $35 billion

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ABC News, 10th August 2009 – An international study has found that the economic cost of coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would be $37.7 billion.

The Oxford Economics report, which values the reef at $51.4 billion, also found up to 50 per cent of tourists who would normally visit the reef would stay away from Queensland if bleaching was permanent.

The study was commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to set an economic benchmark for the natural asset.

The foundation’s John Schubert says the figures paint a disturbing picture for tourism and local communities that directly benefit from their proximity to the reef.

Managing director Judy Stewart expects the economic study will set a new standard for valuing the environment.

“I expect that the methodology will be looked at in great detail by other economists looking at other environmental assets elsewhere, as well as how we value coral reefs elsewhere,” she said.

Visit the Great Barrier Reef Foundation page for background information, summary of report outcomes and the entire report (pdf link).

Update: “Life’s a bleach for Barrier Reef as climate changes” – The Australian, 10th August 2009:

THE Great Barrier Reef’s gilt-edged importance to the Australian economy has been highlighted by new research into the potential financial cost of climate change to the world heritage-listed wonder.

British consultant Oxford Economics puts the present value of the reef at $51.4 billion – approaching $2500 for every Australian alive today – but warns that nearly four-fifths of its worth would be destroyed if the coral was totally and permanently bleached.

The study goes beyond placing a dollar figure on tourism, fishing and other commercial activities involving the reef, valuing “indirect” benefits such as its role in protecting coastal communities from storms and cyclones.

The research was commissioned by the not-for-profit Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Its chairman, John Schubert, warned yesterday that the reef was at a “crossroads” because of climate change.

“We are basically at a point where we need to take action to ensure that as much of the reef as possible can be preserved,” Dr Schubert said in releasing the Oxford Economics study.

The $51.4bn figure for the reef’s net worth is calculated over a century, at a preferred discount rate of 2.65 per cent to price in the opportunity cost of tying up that capital.

Oxford Economics valued the net economic benefit and profit generated by tourism on the reef at $20.2bn, with recreational fishing worth $2.8bn. Profit from commercial fishing is $1.4bn, while the so-called indirect-use value of the reef as a coastal defence absorbing up to 90per cent of the destructive force of storm-driven waves was $10bn in present value terms.

Dr Schubert said the British firm’s estimate of the reef’s economic worth was broadly in line with that of Australian forecaster Access Economics, though each used a different form of economic modelling.

Oxford Economics also factored in a “non-use” worth of the reef of $15.2bn, representing the potential value to Australians of, say, a future visit to the reef or of its capacity to yield breakthroughs in biomedicine and other forms of research.

In costing these economic benefits, Oxford Economics said it had been able to value the potentially catastrophic effects of coral bleaching from higher ocean temperature and levels caused by climate change.

The report found that the reef had been affected by heat-related coral bleaching six times over the past 25 years, most severely in 2002, when 60per cent of reefs within the vast marine park were hit, destroying up to a tenth of the coral.

Total and permanent bleaching of the reef would cost $37.7bn, or 73 per cent of its assessed value to the economy, presently accounting for nearly 5 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product. Tourism would be devastated, with up to half of the million or so people who visit the reef annually likely to stay away.

The Cairns region would lose 90per cent of the $17.9bn reef-related activity boosting the local economy.

“This report provides a wake-up call about the threat to one of Australia’s greatest natural assets and the potential cost to Australia,” Dr Schubert said.

“It also establishes for the first time the extent to which the Cairns region would be affected by a major bleaching event.”

The Australian Prime Minister takes up blogging

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Good to see the honorable Kevin Rudd has “…decided to kick off my blogging career with a focus on climate change“:

The latest scientific research on climate change confirms our worst fears.  Climate change is happening faster than we previously thought, creating a more serious threat to our economy, our environment and to future generations.

I recently returned from a meeting of leaders of the world’s major developed and developing countries in Italy, where our discussions focused on our global efforts to tackle climate change. This meeting – the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy – made some important progress. In particular, it recognised the clear message from climate science that the increase in global average temperature must not exceed 2 degrees celsius. That means the international community is accepting the need for tough long-term targets on reducing carbon emissions.

For anyone not following Australian politics, this is a huge step up from our last Prime Minister John Howard, who somewhat famously said “I accept that climate change is a challenge, I accept the broad theory about global warming. I am sceptical about a lot of the more gloomy predictions” (shortly before he was voted out of office). Great to see mention of our research here, too!

The Great Barrier Reef – one of Australia’s most iconic natural wonders which generates jobs for around 60,000 people and more than $4.9 billion in tourism revenue – is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Reef Relief: Queensland Government enacts new leglisation on the GBR


In a major step to protecting the inshore reefs of the GBR, the Queensland Government have inacted fairly dramatic legislation on the use of fertilisers and pesticides on farms in the reef catchment. Under the new rules, farmers in the Mackay-Whitsunday, Burdekin Dry Tropics and Far North’s Wet Tropic catchments must keep records on fertiliser usage and apply ‘no more than the optimum amount of fertiliser to their soil’. The use of the pesticides Atrazine, Diuron, Ametryn, Hexazinone or Tebuthiuron are also subject to an array of new rules and regulations.

Although not without controversy, this is great news for the reefs on the GBR. Over 32,000 tonnes of fertiliser (worth $32 million) leaches out into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon every year through overfertilisation on farms. There is strong scientific evidence showing that elevated pesticide and nutrients from the land associated with flood waters induce coral bleaching and mortality during flood years (see here for a great post by Jon Brodie on the subject).

Strict controls on fertilisers and pesticides and close monitoring of large and high-risk farms in north Queensland will help heal the Great Barrier Reef, Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said today.

Ms Jones, introducing the Great Barrier Reef Protection Bill 2009 to State Parliament, said the legislation would reduce the levels of farm chemicals and sediment harming the Reef.

“The Bill will help detox the Great Barrier Reef and give it a fighting chance,” Ms Jones said.

“The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s most treasured possession and is worth nearly $6 billion to our economy, supporting about 63,000 jobs.

“But its health has been deteriorating from a number of factors, including damaging run-off from sugar cane fields and beef cattle farms in Reef catchments.

“We must do all we can to ensure this natural wonder of the world survives long after us and that means minimising man-made harm. This Bill is good for the Reef and it makes good business sense for farmers.

“While many farmers are doing the right thing and have minimised their impact, we must go further than the voluntary approach to get the results we need faster.

“Our Reef is too precious so we have no option but to act now and act decisively.

“The Bligh Government told Queenslanders last election that we would regulate to reduce the amount of fertiliser and pesticides entering the Reef by 50 per cent in four years.

“The Bill makes good on that commitment. It’s backed by strong scientific evidence and it gives the Reef every chance of recovering from the damage inflicted by over-fertilising, toxic pesticides and soil run-off.”(Link to media release)

Question and answer session on the new Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Bill


I thought this was well worth posting – a comprehensive ‘who, how, what and why’ answer session by the government that neatly answers most common concerns over the new reef protection amendment.

Question – Who and where will the Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Bill 2009 affect? When will regulation and Bill commence and come into effect?

Question: Who will the Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Bill 2009 affect?


•    Around 4,500 farmers are likely to be affected.

•    Around 1,000 farmers will initially be required to prepare Environmental Risk Management Plans (ERMPs).

•    The level of regulatory impact on individual farmers can vary considerably depending on the hazards, problems, and management practices on each property.

•    ERMPs will be required for cattle graziers with a property greater than 2,000 hectares in the Burdekin Dry Tropics and sugarcane farmers with properties greater than 70 hectares in the Wet Tropics catchment.

Question: Where does the Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Bill 2009 and regulations apply?


•    All cattle grazing of more than 100 ‘standard cattle units’ and all sugarcane farming in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin Dry Tropics, and Mackay Whitsunday catchments.

Question: When will the new regime come into effect?
•    The initially targeted high risk farmers who must prepare and implement an Environmental Risk Management Plan will have nine months in total from 1 January 2010 to submit their ERMP which will be implemented over a number of years depending on their circumstances.
•    If further ‘hot spots’ are identified, farmers and graziers in these areas will be required to submit a Plan within three months of being notified.
•    Farmers will be notified by the Department of Environment and Resource Management either directly, by media advertising or by the Department’s other communications channels.

Question – How will the new regulations improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef?

•    The major threats to the health of the Reef are ocean acidification and coral bleaching due to climate change and reduced water quality due to agricultural pollution.
•    The new threat from climate change means it is now even more critical to reduce the existing damage from land runoff of nutrients, sediments, and pesticides to improve the Reef’s water quality and its resilience to the new impacts of climate change.
•    Reducing all of the threats is essential to a healthy Reef, however regulating agricultural runoff is the most immediate and efficient response to halt the decline of the Reef’s health.
•    Therefore, the new regulation focuses on catchment-scale reduction of water pollution from agriculture to increase the health of the Great Barrier Reef by improving the water quality in our waterways generally.

Question – How do we know that agricultural activities are impacting on the Great Barrier Reef?

•    There is substantial and credible scientific evidence that indicates the Reef’s health is suffering long-term decline from the nutrient, pesticide and sediment runoff from broad-scale agriculture in adjacent river catchments.

•    In 2008, the Scientific Consensus Statement on Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef was released by 13 leading scientists after reviewing 500 technical papers.

•    It confirmed the presence of sediment, nutrients and pesticides in the Reef—up to 60 km offshore—in amounts that will cause it harm. In catchment waterways these contaminants were found at levels proportional to the land under agriculture—there were more contaminants where there was more agriculture.

•    Also in 2006 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s annual marine monitoring report found high concentrations of the agricultural pesticide, diuron, at many river mouth sites.

•    Peer reviewed science in 2006 by leading Reef scientists documented the marked decline in the richness of coral for 400 kilometres south of Cooktown—right next to the catchments dominated by these industries.

•    We know that new science, recently or about to be published, reiterates the growing problem of pesticides and herbicides in freshwater and marine environments.  A paper published this year by Robert Packett and others indicates serious atrazine contamination in the Reef catchment.

Question – What do farmers need to do under the new regime?


The bill applies to cattle and sugarcane production located in the priority catchments of the Burdekin Dry Tropics, Mackay-Whitsunday and the Wet Tropics.

Cattle grazing and sugarcane growing will now be designated agricultural environmentally relevant activities under the Environmental Protection Act.

What farmers will be required to do under the bill:

•    Record and report as required on such things as use of fertiliser, weed poisons and farming management practices.

•    If applying fertiliser, they must calculate the optimum amount for application using a soil test and other information and not apply more than the optimum amount, so as to prevent over-fertilisation and reduce run-off.

•    Some specified high risk Farmers will need to prepare and implement an ERMP to entrench the adoption of best management practices and continuous improvement.

•    They will need to be aware of the change to the restrictions on the use of key damaging pesticides in the Chemical Usage (Agricultural and Veterinary) Control Regulation 1999.
Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Bill 2009

Question – How are you choosing who needs to prepare and keep Environmental Risk Management Plans?


1.    Cattle graziers in the Burdekin Dry Tropics catchment with a property greater than 2000 hectares.


•    This will capture most large-scale and extensive cattle grazing properties that contribute the majority of sediment runoff to the Reef.

•    This property threshold will also ensure that coastal pasture and dairy operations that are considered lower priority contributors to runoff do not initially fall under the requirement.

2.    Sugarcane farmers in the Wet Tropics catchment with property greater than 70 hectares.


•    The average size of sugarcane farms in the Wet Tropics is 60 to 70 hectares which will capture a large proportion of the catchment with proportionately fewer producers, hence allowing the most pollution reduction for the least cost.

•    The Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research report for the State of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef Protection Package states that: ‘The Wet Tropics generates large amounts of harmful nutrient and pesticide runoff from sugarcane that is directly harming the Great Barrier Reef.  Seventy-eight percent of all nitrogen pollution from human activities comes directly from sugarcane in the Wet Tropics.’

Question – How will you make sure farmers are doing the right thing? How will you know they are not keeping wrong records?


•    Farmers’ records, management plans, and chemical and fertiliser use will be audited on risk targeted basis and compliance enforced if necessary.

•    Online advice, tools and forms will be provided free to farmers to help them keep records and improve management practices. This will be supported by ‘how to’ guidance that explains why the information is being collected and what form the records should take.

•    Farmers without access to the internet will be provided with local access to online reporting systems and regional staff.  There will also be training courses available.
•    To save farmers work, the required records will as far as possible align with current automated record keeping systems such as AgDat.  Industry organisations will be invited to help design the tools to ensure the maximum practicality and benefit to farmers and the Reef.

•    There will also be regional reviews where the Department will write to farmers and request their records. This will be risk-based focussing on catchments where poor performance is hindering achievement of Reef Plan targets.

Question – How did the government identify which agricultural chemical to control?

•    Key agricultural chemical products to be restricted are: diuron, atrazine, ametryn, hexazinone and tebuthiuron
•    The herbicide residues most commonly found in Reef’s surface waters are diuron, atrazine, ametryn, hexazinone. They come from areas of sugarcane cultivation.
•    Residues of tebuthiuron come from the use of ‘grassland’ on grazing lands for woody weed control.
•    Strong scientific evidence shows the presence of pesticides in the Great Barrier Reef, which have been detected at harmful concentrations up to 60kilometres offshore during the wet season.
•    A recent report noted that river water plumes entering the Reef contain a profile of diuron, atrazine, and hexazinone residues.  Contrary to general belief, these pesticides were not removed by natural physical or biological progress like mixing or dilution with seawater.
•    The study found that exposure to high diuron concentration for four days will hinder the coral’s ability to produce energy, causing bleaching.

Question – Will there be a cost burden on farmers?

•    The level of regulatory impact on property owners will vary considerably depending on the level of risk to the Reef of the activity and what current management practices are in place.
•    It is expected that the cost of the regulatory measures are likely, in many instances, to be offset by cost savings from increased productivity and reduced input costs.  Those whose risks are greatest will usually have most to gain by reducing the loss of fertiliser and pesticides, which are increasingly expensive.
•    Many farmers are already doing the right things by keeping a management plan, applying the correct level of fertiliser, using pesticides responsibly and taking measures to minimise Reef run-off.  These farmers will not be greatly affected.
•    For example, a cattle grazing operation implementing a land management agreement under the Delbessie arrangement for leasehold land is likely to be able to satisfy relevant requirements for sediment management on grazing lands without significant additional work.
•    Those who have a plan to implement management practices equivalent to an ERMP will not have to duplicate their effort.
•    The cost of record keeping, preparing plans and reporting under the legislation will vary according to the level of risk of the activity.  Low risk activities will only incur small costs and take very little time.
•    Property owners classified ‘low risk’ will not be required to have an ERMP.
•    For a medium level risk activity an ERMP may cost around $3,500 to prepare.
•    Grazing property owners with an ERMP may need to fence erosion hazard areas, provide off-stream watering points and manage vegetation cover to reduce sediment loss. These measures will vary greatly in cost, but may average around $5,000 a year over three years.  There are major economic benefits in applying these improved management practices.
•    However, ERMPs will be flexible to allow for the spread of investment in new practices over a reasonably long period.
•    There is evidence that optimal application of fertiliser possibly using precision farming equipment (possibly costing about $30,000) might save about $3,000 per year in reduced fertiliser costs for each farmer.  Farmers can use contractors to apply fertiliser or share costs of equipment between a number of farmers.
•    A worst case scenario relates to property owners who perform poorly and:
o    have done no training relating to the use of atrazine, ametryn, hexazinone, diuron, and tebuthiuron handling and application
o    have no property plans relating to environmental management
o    use the atrazine, ametryn, hexazinone, diuron, and tebuthiuron across all areas of their operation
o    do not do any soil testing
o    have not implemented practices that minimise environmental impact
o    do not access any subsidy or grants for training or implementation.
•    The upfront cost to such an operator would be approximately $6,000, consisting of: training ($500); soil testing ($320) and preparation of an ERMP ($5,000 assuming a specialist is employed.  For a simple low risk activity, the farmer should be able to prepare the ERMP without paying for assistance, utilising online and other support provided free by the government).
•    The implementation cost would vary depending on the property and costs would need to be traded off against the benefits in productivity and profits as a result of lower input costs and increased yield.

Question – Will the new laws affect food quality?

•    The new laws will not affect food quality.

•    The new laws encourage adoption of better management practices that improve water quality.  It does not require farmers to change practices with respect to production of food that would impact on quality.

•    Food crops will take up the nutrients they need from the soil. Fertiliser that is excess to the crop’s requirements will run off properties to the Reef.

•    The use of atrazine, ametryn, hexazinone, diuron, and tebuthiuron will be restricted in waterways and drainage lines and within certain distances from waterways.  As these are herbicides, there will be no impact on the quality of food.
•     A concern may be around the security of the food generated for local and export markets. The new laws may have some implementation costs for farmers but these costs should be weighed against the benefits in productivity and profits as a result of lower input costs or increased yield. Therefore there should be no impact on security of food supply.

Question – How will we know if Reef run-off has been reduced in four years and the legislation’s objectives have been achieved?

•    There will be a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation program to effectively measure the legislation’s progress towards its targets.
•    Program monitoring and evaluation will focus on identifying what effect the regulation has on the level of land practice change and pollution reduction.
•    This data will be modelled to estimate the likely improvement of the quality of water entering the Reef.
•    Monitoring and evaluation will be done collaboratively between Queensland and Australian Government departments, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and regional groups.
•    Development and design of the monitoring and evaluation program is underway in conjunction with statistical experts. The program will be thoroughly peer reviewed.

Question – What else are Governments doing to protect the Reef?


•    Since the commencement of Reef Plan in 2003, the Queensland Government has invested about $125 million on natural resource management in Reef catchments, including reef water quality related projects.
•    This is an investment in the health of the entire catchment that is ultimately essential to a healthy reef ecosystem.
•    Earlier this year, the Queensland Government introduced a moratorium on the clearing all native re-growth vegetation within 50 metres of identified watercourses in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay/Whitsunday.
•    The Delbessie land management agreement between rural leaseholders and the Government commenced in 2008 offering extended leases to landholders in Reef catchments who improve the condition of their land.
•    Water Quality Improvement Plans are being completed by regional natural resource management groups to identify regional targets for water quality improvement and the management actions needed to reach those targets in specified timeframes.
•    Under the Reef Plan, nutrient management zones were identified to focus water quality investments on the critical ‘hot spots’.
•    The Australian Government’s out a $200 million Reef Rescue Plan which is supporting farmers, regional groups and industry groups to help make management practice change to protect the Reef.
How the programs fit together

•    The Australian Government’s Reef Rescue program will deliver an immediate improvement in management practices. This will be locked in for the long term by the Queensland Government’s regulatory package through its extension support services and regulatory measures.

•    The key issue is the need to significantly reduce pollutant loads of up to 90,000 tonnes year of nutrient mainly from cane farming and up to 66 million tonnes of sediment mainly from cattle grazing.

•    The targets announced as part of the Reef Protection Package by the Queensland Government in 2009 aim is to reduce nutrient and pesticides by 50 percent in four years.

•    Achieving Reef Plan targets will require the permanent adoption of management practices, compatible with Reef health, by farmers of about 80 per cent of cane land and over half of cattle grazing land.  It is likely that less than 10 per cent of this land is currently managed at the necessary standard.

•    While it will be impossible to determine the individual contribution to water quality improvement from any program, the outcome will be better, faster and more permanent with both programs operating together in harmony.

•    This is because Reef Rescue grants mainly help farmers to purchase equipment while the regulation ensures equipment is used to achieve the required outcome and continues to be used and replaced when it depreciates. It locks in the benefits of Reef Rescue for the long term and prevents the waste of the Reef Rescue investment.

•    Furthermore, the regulation is performance based so it drives innovation and continuous improvement, further reducing the call on Commonwealth resources for future Reef protection.

‘Reef beef’ – Great Barrier Reef pesticide controls anger farmers


Conservationists are anticipating a victory in their long running battle with farmers over the effects of runoffs from pesticides and fertilisers on the Great Barrier Reef.

Legislation has been introduced into the Queensland Parliament that would restrict farmers’ use of the chemicals. Failure to comply could trigger a $30,000 fine.

But farmers say there’s no proven links to coral bleaching and infestations of the crown of thorns starfish, and it’s just part of Green preference deals.

(Link to ABC Radio, click below for audio)


Black band disease hits Great Barrier Reef

A recent article in the ABC news tells of the seasonal dynamics of ‘black band disease’ affecting plating corals on the inshore great barrier reef.  Yui Sato, the lead author of the journal article painstakingly documented 485 coral colonies across an almost 3 year time period. Interestingly, the results seem to point as light as a driving factor of black band disease progression in infected corals – click here to read the full article from the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

bbdABC News, 6th May 2009

An epizootic – the wildlife equivalent of a human epidemic – of black band disease has appeared in the Great Barrier Reef, say Australian researchers.

Scientists, who have been monitoring the progress of the disease, say this is the first time an epizootic of this type has been documented in Australian waters.

Black band disease has decimated coral populations in the Caribbean and researchers are concerned it could spread here.

Marine biologist Yui Sato of James Cook University in Townsville and colleagues report their findings in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biology.

Sato, who is a research student with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says the black band disease flourishes in warm seawater, killing coral as it eats through tissue, exposing the fragile skeleton.

He is concerned that predicted warmer ocean conditions caused by global warming will lead to longer outbreaks and faster tissue loss. (Read more)

Australia delays emissions trading, but is still comitted to “saving the Great Barrier Reef”

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ‘changed tack‘ from his post election promises last year in which he said that ‘failure to act on climate change could be disastrous’, and that delaying emission reductions would be “reckless and irresponsible”. Due to the global recession (and presumably other factors), local emissions trading is now halted untill 2011, and of more intrigue, greenhouse gas cuts have been upped 15% to 25% reductions by 2020. See my colleague John Quiggin‘s blog for excellent discussion of conditional & unconditional targets, and 2020 reduction levels. What is worthy of note is this excerpt from the Prime Ministers speech discussing 450ppm as the target for stabilization:

“…the Government has also listened carefully to international and environmental stakeholders committed to realising the best possible outcome at Copenhagen, which is scheduled for the end of this year, in order to achieve the best and most ambitious outcome necessary to stabilise long term greenhouse gas emissions at 450 parts per million, because applied to Australia’s own circumstances long term, that creates the best economic and environmental dividend to Australia, including as I said importantly before, providing a scientific basis for us having a real prospect of saving the Great Barrier Reef.” (Read more)


Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery


Our lab has just published a new paper in PLoS ONE, detailing the interactions of coral and algae on the Great Barrier Reef, and uncovered just how resilient some reefs can be following coral bleaching events. The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef was exposed to extended periods of high sea surface temperatures in the end of 2006, resulting in extensive coral bleaching across the Keppel Islands throughout January 2006. Following the bleaching event, a single species of fleshy macro-algae (Lobophora) overgrew the coral skeletons, causing high rates of mortality throughout the second half of 2006. But, by February 2007, corals were rapidly recovering due to an unusual seasonal dieback of the macro-algae, and astonishing regenerative capabilities of the dominant branching Acroporid corals – almost twice the rate of offshore corals on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

What is unusual about the Keppel Islands story is threefold: first, that corals recovered within months to years (reversal of macro-algae dominated reefs often takes decades), second, recovery of the corals occurred in the absence of herbivory (traditionally assumed to be the ‘driving factor’ in macro-algal phase shifts), and third, that corals recovered through asexual (regenerative) capacities rather than reseeding of reefs by larval recruitment. Understanding the processes that drive recovery following disturbances is critical for management of coral reefs, and the Keppel Islands example shows that managing local stressors (overfishing and water quality) helps reefs bounce back from global stressors such as coral bleaching events. PLoS One is an open-access journal, so the article is free to read – click on the link below, and feel free to rate and comments on the paper. Congratulations Guillermo et al!

Guillermo Diaz-Pulido, Laurence J. McCook, Sophie Dove, Ray Berkelmans, George Roff, David I. Kline, Scarla Weeks, Richard D. Evans, David H. Williamson, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (2009 Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5239. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005239