Reality and theory. When it comes to the Great Barrier Reef it’s these two words that stick permanently in my mind.
In theory, Australians care about the Great Barrier Reef.
This was demonstrated in a recent James Cook University study in which Australians rated the reef as Australia’s number one icon; head and shoulders above Uluru at number two. In fact, 77 per cent felt the Great Barrier Reef was part of their identity, and 81 per cent agreed that it’s the responsibility of all us to protect it.
Yet in reality, if its failing health is an indication of our true concern for the reef, then Australians can’t claim to care at all.
I have lived and worked as a dive instructor in the Whitsundays for more than 40 years and I have witnessed first-hand the decline of the reef, and how thousands have rallied to save it.
Campaign after campaign, I have watched as the public sign petitions calling for more action, donated money to research and watched intently as the news published stories of unprecedented coral bleaching.
In theory, these campaigns and donations should have had an impact but in reality, they didn’t.
Research shows that the health of the Great Barrier Reef has been in serious decline for 30 years, which is about the same time I have lived and dived here.
In 2012, the Australian Institute of Marine Science reported that over the past 27 years nearly 50 per cent of the reef’s coral cover was lost. In 2018, scientists reported that up to 50 per cent of the reef’s hard coral cover was destroyed by the back-to-back coral bleaching events of 2016 and 2017.
We can do a lot of finger pointing and blame a myriad of other people for the reef’s poor health, but that will not save it. We have to recognise that we as a community are responsible for the reef. We cannot pass the buck and stand in the shadows declaring our love without taking serious action.
Australia has the best reef scientists in the world. Through decades of research, the impacts on the reef are well known, as are the solutions.
We can address poor water quality through better land management practices and reduced land clearing, add more no-take zones and better compliance to our fishing grounds to prevent overfishing and illegal fishing.
We could even change the impacts of coral bleaching and build the reef’s resilience over time if we stopped digging up and burning fossil fuels and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
The problem is that we lack the will to implement these types of solutions. Why? Because saving the reef requires change, and for many people change is scary.
For instance, farmers and graziers have to change their land use practices in order to reduce the use of fertiliser, pesticides and sediment runoff, and fishermen have to change their practices and reduce their quotas.
Communities need to change the way they shop and recycle, and Australia has to cut our use of fossil fuels in the electricity and transport sectors by rapidly transitioning to renewable energy.
Yes, we all care about the reef, but do we care enough to make the changes that are necessary to protect what’s left? I hope we can, I really do.
I believe to truly save the reef now and for the future we need to work together, make all the necessary changes and turn a concern that’s great in theory into a reality.
Tony Fontes is chief executive of Whitsunday Dive Adventures and has been diving on the reef for 40 years.
Source: Brisbane News