21 Sept 2015


WWF-Australia said today’s Reef Report Card shows we must dramatically step up the fight against coral-eating Crown of Thorns Starfish.

The report card is the Federal and Queensland Government’s own assessment of efforts to reduce nitrogen, sediment and pesticide pollution in reef catchments.

“The bottom line is we’re not doing enough to stop COTS outbreaks,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Sean Hoobin.

“Scientists say that to stop these starfish we must reduce nitrogen in the Wet Tropics by 80% and governments have committed to achieve this by 2025."

“But today’s report card estimates we’ve only reduced nitrogen pollution in the Wet Tropics by 14.5% since 2009 and are already well behind schedule,” he said.

Nitrogen that washes off farms in the Wet Tropics causes algal blooms which feed baby starfish. More starfish survive than nature ever intended with devastating consequences for the Reef.

In the last three decades the Reef has lost half its coral cover – with over 40% of this loss due to Crown of Thorn Starfish outbreaks.

“The figures in the Reef Report Card represent a clear fail for current programs,” Mr Hoobin said.

“Governments have promised to give the Reef the clean water it needs to recover by 2025 – to meet this commitment they will need to overhaul current programs, and provide significant additional resources."

“The Queensland Government has set up the Reef Taskforce which will, for the first time ever, set out the actions and investment need to deliver Reef safe water quality.”

“We must protect the natural wonders of the Reef which supports more than 60,000 jobs."

“Key first steps are to enforce existing regulations to stop overuse of fertilisers. Leading farmers are showing that it is possible to achieve big reductions in fertiliser pollution while still being profitable,” he said.  

Key statistics from today’s Reef Report Card

Crown of Thorns and pollution

  • Reef-wide dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), the pollutant which triggers COTS outbreaks, was reduced by 17% over the past six years which was rated “poor”.
  • In the Wet Tropics the reduction was only 14.5% which was rated “very poor”.
  • The Wet Tropics is the region that will need to achieve the biggest cuts to DIN, the full 80% reduction target by 2025, if Crown of Thorns Starfish outbreaks are to be arrested.
  • Only 9% of the area of sugarcane lands in the Wet Tropics are managed using best management practice for nitrogen – the target is 90% by 2018.

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571