Senate Estimates Opening Statement: 18 February 2019

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority appeared at Senate Estimates on Monday 18 February 2019 and acting Chief Executive Officer Mr Bruce Elliot delivered the following opening statement:

"My name is Bruce Elliot, Acting CEO 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 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.

"I would also like to recognise the significant weather event which occurred recently in Townsville and the wider North Queensland region, and the catastrophic implications this has had for many people. Our thoughts are with all those who have been impacted and we wish you all the best through the recovery process. I also thank those involved in the rescue and recovery efforts, the community spirit and commitment is truly admirable.

"This event has not been without its ramifications for the Great Barrier Reef. There has been major to moderate flooding of rivers from the Daintree to the Mackay region. Flooding, and the resultant discharge of large amounts of freshwater into the Marine Park can result in freshwater bleaching to inshore reefs and impacts to seagrass meadows. At this stage it is too early to determine the impact from the flood waters however we will continue to monitor this situation.  Species that are reliant on seagrasses as their primary food source, particularly green turtles and dugongs, are also likely to be affected. Following previous significant flood events, such as tropical cyclone Yasi in February 2011, there was a dramatic increase in recorded mortality of these species. There is likely to be a time-lag of weeks to many months before we will know how they have been impacted by this event.

"Forecast models still predict above average sea surface temperatures through the remainder of February and March for the entire Reef.  However, the cooler regional weather in January and early February has seen the threat of mass bleaching reduced markedly for most of the Reef compared to earlier predictions. Regional and local weather conditions continue to be critical in determining the outcome for the Reef this summer.

"The Authority has been providing weekly Reef health updates to key partners and on our website since December last year and will continue to monitor and inform our partners of any potential impacts on the Reef this summer.

"We continue to reinforce that strong global action on climate change is essential for the long term health of the Reef. Our focus continues on building the resilience of the Reef by managing the local and regional stressors to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Delivery of actions in the Reef 2050 Plan and the Authority’s Reef Blueprint are critical, and we are both directing our work to these actions, and partnering with other Reef stakeholders in this effort.

"As a result of the Australian Government’s increased ongoing investment in the Reef Joint Field Management Program, which was matched by Queensland, program expansion is rolling out. The expanded program will significantly increase our on-water presence and delivery of field actvitities essential for resilience of the Reef, in particular management of stressors on the Reef. The establishment of a dedicated southern compliance team and the expected launch of the Program’s new 24 metre patrol vessel in June will expand the Program’s capacity to deliver on-water activities especially in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

"Our focus as the legislated manager of the Marine Park, is on management and protection. We deliver policies and programs, management strategies and regulation to ensure the long-term protection and sustainable use of the Reef. This includes the full suite of existing work from ensuring compliance with Marine Park zoning and issuing permits to working with communities and industries who rely on a healthy Reef. Our partnership with the Reef tourism industry and science community to conduct crown-of-thorns starfish control is just one example of this. We are currently operating an expanded program with six vessels on the water across the Marine Park conducting targeted control, which is a critical activity to help protect corals. .

"We continue to work with the Department of the Environment and Energy to implement the recommendations of the 2017 Governance Review. I am pleased to advise you that Dr Ian Poiner was appointed as the Authority’s part-time Chairperson in October 2018. Dr Poiner brings a wealth of expertise to the role and will provide strong leadership and guidance to the Authority board. As the acting CEO, I am working closely with Dr Poiner while the process to recruit the permanent Chief Executive Officer is underway.

"Thank you."