A NEW water quality report card released today gives the Whitsundays inshore reefs a “very poor” rating for water clarity and a “poor” rating for nutrient pollution – highlighting the need for major new investment to tackle the problem.
The report card was produced by the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership which involves community groups, Traditional Owners, industry, agriculture, science, fishers, tourism, and government. WWF-Australia spokesperson Sean Hoobin said the Whitsundays results were disturbing.
“This region accounts for 43% of all commercial tourism visits to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, with tourists coming to see the corals and clear water of the Whitsundays,” Mr Hoobin said.
“For some time tourism operators have raised the risk posed to their industry from declining water quality and this report vindicates their concern.
“Without a major new funding package from state and federal governments, we fear that water quality in the region will continue to decline,” he said.
Mr Hoobin said the region was suffering from the cumulative impacts of dredging, dumping, and sediment and fertiliser runoff from farms.
The 2014 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report flagged cumulative impacts as an area of major concern:
– While many of the management measures implemented in the Great Barrier Reef Region … are making a positive difference … the ability to address cumulative impacts remains weak.
– In 2006, during a major dredging operation at Hay Point, 8.6 million cubic metres of spoil was dumped in Reef waters.
Mr Hoobin said that the impact of farm pollution was well established and recent modelling commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority showed the sediment plume from dumping at Hay Point could extend into the Whitsundays. It is also known that dredge spoil can resuspend for years.
He said the poor ratings for nitrogen and water clarity in the Whitsundays come at a crucial time.
“Right now a government taskforce is working out the investment required to achieve a 50- 80% reduction in sediment and nitrogen pollution,” Mr Hoobin said.
“The problems in the Whitsundays really highlight the need to urgently ramp up efforts to tackle water pollution.
“We must protect the 60,000 jobs the Reef supports.
“WWF and the Reef’s NRM groups are calling for an injection of at least $2 billion, on top of existing funding, to improve water quality, and secure the future of the Reef and the tourism industry.
“In addition, WWF says innovative approaches to reducing pollution should be explored, including a cap on pollution. If we are to achieve big cuts to sediment and nitrogen the first basic step is to stop increasing pollution,” Mr Hoobin said.