25 May 2016


Historic new action has been recommended to stop farm pollution harming the Great Barrier Reef.

The final report of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce calls for a legal cap on the fertiliser and sediment pollution flowing from individual river systems to the Reef.

The Taskforce also warns that “significantly more investment” and change on “a vast scale” are needed if pollution reduction targets promised to UNESCO “have any chance of being achieved”.

The Taskforce has recommended that sugar cane, grazing and other sectors be given pollution load limits for their industries in each catchment.

Australia has committed to the World Heritage Committee to reduce nitrogen run-off by up to 80% and sediment run-off by up to 50% over the next ten years in the Reef 2050 Plan. Fertiliser pollution causes crown of thorns outbreaks and makes coral more susceptible to disease and bleaching. Sediment pollution harms coral and seagrass by blocking light.

WWF spokesperson Sean Hoobin welcomed the Taskforce recommendations as a game-changer for the future of the Reef.

“A catchment cap on pollution which reduces over time, is needed to ensure the Reef gets the clean water it needs to restore its health,” Mr Hoobin said.

“A cap is best achieved through federal laws and we are calling for the major parties to announce they would legislate pollution limits to deliver clean water to the Reef by 2025.”

The Taskforce Report was supposed to include an estimate of the cost to achieve the 2025 clean water targets, but this has been delayed. Just last week, James Cook University scientists said the Reef would be in a terminal condition in five years unless a commitment was made to spend $10 billion AUD over the next 10 years to improve water quality.

“The costings report must be released immediately – the public deserves to know what investment is needed to save the Reef so during this election campaign they can assess the funding commitments of the major parties,” said Imogen Zethoven, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

“The Fight for the Reef campaign is also calling for the parties to commit to all the taskforce recommendations.”

Other key points from the Taskforce Report include:

  • Dual action on climate change and water quality improvement will be critical for the long term health of the Reef (p14)
  • Only 2.3% of cane farmers and 0.3% of graziers are Best Management Practice accredited (Table 3, p24)
  • The large majority of farmers are still applying well over the recommended amount of nitrogen required for their crop. (p38)
  • Transformational change is needed over the next 5-10 years if the targets have any chance of being achieved. (p26)
  • A program of this scale is likely to require significantly more investment than currently available. (p26)

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571, msymons@wwf.org.au