Julie Bishop’s PR stunt a travesty of science: the Reef is in serious danger

Press release - 15 May, 2017
Tuesday, 16 May 2017: The foreign minister Julie Bishop’s snorkelling junket for 75 foreign ambassadors off Cairns yesterday [1] was a transparent PR stunt to persuade UN nations that the Reef is fine ahead of a possible World Heritage ‘in danger’ listing at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee on 2-12 July in Krakow this year.

The reality is that current efforts fall far short of what is required to protect our most treasured natural wonder.

“A short snorkel in an undamaged area of the Reef does nothing to show the true picture of the lack of effort by Government to - as Julie Bishop says - “conserve, preserve and manage the Reef,”” said Greenpeace Campaigner, Alix Foster Vander Elst.

“In fact, it masks the sad reality. Government inaction has already seen two thirds of the coral hit by back-to-back mass bleaching events.”

Ms Bishop has enlisted the support of optimistic marine biologists to tell the media that bleached coral can recover and rejuvenate “without any mass die-off.”

“But the sad fact is that while coral can recover from bleaching, the conditions need to be right … and conditions are not right. The longer it is stressed, the less likely coral is to recover,” said Ms Alix Foster Vander Elst

Recent reports by Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, show that record-breaking water temperatures have caused bleaching to over 1500km of coral over the last two summers, leaving only the southern third of the Reef unscathed. And it is widely acknowledged that already some 67% of corals have already died in the reef's worst-hit northern section.

The Reef is under very serious threat. But perhaps worst of all, the Government is actively contributing to exacerbating the greatest threat to the Reef: climate change.

“Just last week, the Foreign Minister’s own department sent an Australian diplomat to UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, where he shamelessly argued for the inclusion of the fossil fuel lobby - including two of the world’s biggest carbon polluters - in international climate negotiations,” said Ms Foster Vander Elst

“And the Government has continuously expressed its support for the proposed massive Carmichael mine in the Galilee valley, including a proposal to lend nearly $1bn of taxpayers’ money to the project, which will ship millions of tonnes of coal out through the Reef and directly impact its health by contributing to climate change,” Ms Foster Vander Elst said.

Bishop’s assertion that we are “leading the world in coral reef preservation and conservation” would be laughable if it weren’t so wrong. Australia’s Reef 2050 plan - which involves a $2bn commitment to improving the health of the reef over the next decade - falls lamentably short of what’s required.

Julie Bishop should direct our government to take her own advice and take realistic steps to “lift the local pressures on the reef”, and commit to a “concerted global effort” to prevent escalating climate change.

“The government should stop putting money into coal mines, commit to the Paris Agreement, take immediate action to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy which is booming internationally,” Ms Foster Vander Elst said.  

For interviews, contact:

Rachael Vincent, Media Campaigner Greenpeace Australia Pacific
Tel 02 9263 0354 Mob 0413 993 316

Editor’s notes:

For a truer picture of the state of the Great Barrier Reef, we recommend a look at these photos and videos, including drone footage of bleached coral off Port Douglas, only 60km north of Cairns, here: http://media.greenpeace.org/shoot/27MZIFJJD68E1

Footnotes: 

1. As reported by the Courier Mail today [here]

2. “Two-thirds of the corals in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef have died in the reef’s worst-ever bleaching event, according to our latest underwater surveys,” : 'How much coral has died in the Great Barrier Reef’s worst bleaching event?', 29 November 2016, The Conversation [here]

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