27 Oct 2017


WWF-Australia is calling for the impact of tree-clearing to be included in future Reef health assessments and for excessive tree clearing to be stopped.

The joint Federal and Queensland government Reef Report Card, released today, does not estimate how much sediment is being generated by recent spikes in tree-clearing in Reef catchments.

More than 600,000 hectares of forest in Reef catchments have been bulldozed since 2008-09.

In the same period, the Report Card claims there has been an overall reduction in sediment, despite the 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement for the Great Barrier Reef stating that "clearing of forest can result in a doubling of runoff”.

“Only by measuring the increased sediment caused by destroying trees can we get an accurate picture of the pollution impacting the Reef,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Sean Hoobin.

Annual areas of bushland cleared= Great Barrier Reef catchments (1000 ha)
Cumulative area of bushland cleared= Great Barrier Reef catchments (1000 ha)

Mr Hoobin said climate change had also thrown a huge spanner in the works for the latest report card.

The remote, northern third of the Reef is largely unaffected by pollution therefore data from this stretch has never been collected for the report card.

Then in 2016, climate change caused mass coral bleaching mortality concentrated in the Reef’s north.

“That has resulted in the unfortunate situation of a report card that claims the Reef’s overall condition improved from a D to a C in the same year that coral bleaching killed 29% of its coral,” Mr Hoobin said.

Mr Hoobin said WWF welcomed some positives: coral recovery in the lower section of the Reef and some pollution reductions from programs to cut excessive fertiliser use.

But key findings of the Report Card show governments are falling way behind on their targets:

  • Both sugarcane and grazing received a ‘D’ with only 32% and 36% respectively at best practice towards a target of 90% by 2018
  • Actions to reduce fertiliser pollution received an E rating with only 20.9 % reduction achieved towards a target of 50% by 2018

“To protect Reef health, we need strong laws to stop high polluting farm practices and excessive tree clearing."

“Governments also need to set out the actions and investments that will deliver on their commitment to give the Reef clean water by 2025,” Mr Hoobin said.

WWF-Australia media contact: 

Senior Media Officer Mark Symons on 0400 985 571