Senate Estimates

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority - opening statement

My name is Russell Reichelt, Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Thank you for the opportunity to update you on the state of the Great Barrier Reef and the management activities of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

First, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef and their continuing connections to their land and sea country—and pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is tasked with the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Since we were established in 1975, the task has increased in complexity with the expanding range of pressures on the Reef. The greatest pressure continues to be climate change, and in particular the trend of increasing ocean temperature.

There have been reports this year of minor coral bleaching, the symptom of heat stress, but fortunately, so far, the 2017-18 summer has not brought the extreme heat experienced in the past two years. We are still in the cyclone season and hoping for a reprieve this year from the intensity of storms like Cyclone Debbie in the Whitsundays where people and businesses are rebuilding.

In short, the pressures on the Reef have not changed and are sufficiently well known to indicate we need to change the way we respond to the increasing risks.

The Authority’s Blueprint for Resilience, which was released in December 2017, responds to threats facing the Reef and outlines 10 key initiatives that deliver maximum benefits for Reef resilience. The Blueprint acknowledges that mitigation of emissions is the key to addressing climate change impacts and emphasises that protecting the Great Barrier Reef in a warming world requires strong action now to build Reef resilience.

The Authority is developing new management tools that focus on maintaining resilience and is seeking new ways to support reef recovery after major impacts like coral bleaching events and major cyclones.

To step up reef protection the Australian Government announced in mid-January an additional $60m investment, of which the Marine Park Authority will manage $15.3m. This is on top of $124m funding received in late 2016 to stabilise the Authority’s budget over the subsequent 10 years.

The new funding enables us to expand rapidly two of our key programs— crown-of-thorns starfish control and the Joint Field Management program— both of these were identified as key initiatives in the Blueprint.

We will also be partnering with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to deliver on the Australian Government’s $6m funding for the Reef Resilience and Adaptation Program—another initiative outlined in the Blueprint.

Finally, I emphasise that strong management actions within and near the Marine Park are essential, but more important are the actions taken by all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 2015 Paris Agreement outlined the need for a global limit of 1.5 degrees C in the long run. Tropical reef corals evolved in relatively stable tropical waters and the changes we are seeing now in temperature are occurring more rapidly than the coral reef system’s ability to adapt as they have done in the past.

Senate Estimates - Marine Park Authority Hansard extract