24 Oct 2017


A government report card states the overall condition of the Great Barrier Reef improved from D to C in 2015-16 – the same year that coral bleaching killed 29% of its coral, the worst mortality in the Reef’s recorded history.

"It beggars belief to say the Reef improved following devastating mass bleaching mortality,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Sean Hoobin.

He also questioned the report card’s claim of an overall reduction in sediment pollution despite annual tree-clearing in Reef catchments increasing by 600% since 2008-2009.

"There are major flaws with the data used to support report card findings,” he said.

The condition of coral in the top third of the Reef – where the mass bleaching was concentrated in 2016 – is not considered when the report card is put together each year.

An omission that’s admitted in this section of the Report Card:

Confidence in the marine results in Cape York and Burnett Mary remains low due to limited data availability and validation. Inshore coral is not assessed through the Marine Monitoring Program in these regions. Consequently, data from these regions is not used in the Great Barrier Reef-wide coral assessment.

Major flaws in Reef report card
© WWF-Australia

Mr Hoobin said the report’s findings on sediment pollution are based on modelling of select projects and actions.

The sediment modelling does not consider the impact of tree-clearing which is another serious failing.

"More than 600,000 hectares of forest in Reef catchments has been bulldozed since 2008-09 but not even one extra handful of sediment has been factored in,” he said.

Mr Hoobin said WWF welcomed some positives: coral recovery in the lower section of the Reef and programs which have cut excessive fertiliser use.

"But how can the public have confidence in a report card that ignores mass coral bleaching mortality and sediment from excessive tree clearing?” he said.

Cumulative area bushland cleared
© WWF-Australia
Cumulative area bushland cleared 50m of wetland
© WWF-Australia

In 2015 the Queensland Auditor-General criticised government reporting on the Reef stating. There is a high level of uncertainty in the modelled outcomes and he said the reporting was lacking transparency at best, and being misleading at worst”. 

Mr Hoobin said the Queensland Government has recognised that tree clearing increases sediment pollution of the Reef.

He said report cards must factor in tree-clearing impacts and more accurately reflect reef-wide coral condition.

The key findings of the Report Card show that governments are falling way behind on their pollution reduction commitments:

  • Both sugar cane 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.