12 May 2015


WWF-Australia today said an indication that the as-yet-unpublished 2013-14 Reef Report Card will show a slight improvement in in-shore coral health is encouraging but must be taken in context.

“It’s premature to say it is a trend and it pales in comparison to the loss of over 50% of coral cover in the last 30 years, and up to 70% since the 1960s,” said WWF spokesperson Nick Heath.

“Unfortunately, there is not yet evidence that government programs have led to any improvement. It’s more likely to be because there has been less flooding impacting on the Reef,” he said.

In fact contributor Dr Britta Schaffelke is quoted as saying: “Corals and sea grass are showing an up-kick because we’ve had a few dry years."

When Dr Schaffelke appeared in a 2015 WWF film about farmers working to stop fertiliser and soil washing off their farms and on to the Reef she said: 

"The message I would like the farmers to know is that we are out there to measure what good impacts, what benefits, their actions on the land will have. But it will probably take another decade or so until we have clear data that show that– yes – we have made a difference."

“The sad truth is that the Reef is still in big trouble and the funding provided by our governments to tackle water pollution is nowhere near what is required,” Mr Heath said.

“At least an extra $400 million needs to be announced in today’s budget, on top of the $100m the Federal Government recently,” he said.

The truth about the Federal Government’s $2 billion claim

“The Federal Government’s ‘$2 billion 10-year Reef improvement plan’ is not all funding being spent directly on the Reef,” Mr Heath said.

“In fact nearly $500 million, or a quarter of that $2 billion, is being spent on maritime safety. It’s being spent on items like promoting maritime safety and providing a search and rescue service."

“Legitimate spending – but it is not money going directly to bringing back coral, sea grass, turtles and fish."

“There is not $2 billion being spent to repair the Reef."


Chemical fertiliser pollution has led to inorganic nitrogen in the World Heritage Area at 175% of natural levels and inorganic phosphorous at 230% of natural levels (Waters, 2014)

This pollution is feeding Crown of thorns starfish outbreaks, which in turn eat the coral and have been the cause of an estimated 42% of coral deaths since 1985 (Fabricius, 2012)

Extra mud flows from overstocking, erosion and land degradation represent 290% of natural levels (Waters, 2014)

Too much mud blocks light to coral and seagrass, adding to the impacts from Starfish outbreaks and impacting seagrass beds which have in places lost up to 80% of their extent

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571