POLITICS

Our Next PM Has The Last Chance To Save The Great Barrier Reef

Scientists say we've got five years.

19/05/2016 12:34 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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The Great Barrier Reef needs to be protected from water pollution.

The Great Barrier Reef will live or die by the decisions made by Australia's next elected prime minister, a scientific paper says.

Researchers at James Cook University said a $10 billion commitment to improve water quality was needed to save the world's largest reef from certain death.

The paper was written by the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research chief research officer Jon Brodie and emeritus professor Richard Pearson, who argued the reef was at breaking point and water pollution could tip it over the edge.

"If we want to provide resilience against the current climate impacts, water management needs to be greatly improved, both in terms of money made available and a cohesive strategy, by 2025," Brodie said.

What's threatening the reef?

Coral bleaching: Last summer, 97 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was affected by the largest coral bleaching event ever recorded. Coral bleaches in extreme conditions like very hot, cold or polluted water.

Ocean acidification: As more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs a portion of it, and it's increasing the ocean's acidity with predictions it could eventually begin to dissolve coral.

Crown of thorns sea stars: These native species eat coral, and in a healthy reef, provide space for new coral to grow, but their population can explode in nutrient-rich waters, causing an outbreak.

The paper predicted the next wave of crown of thorns outbreaks would hit around 2025 and there's no indication coral would have regrown to pre-bleaching levels at that stage.

"It takes time for change to happen and we need to start fast," Brodie said.

"If something is not done in this election cycle then we may not see good coral again within our children's lifetime."

Brodie said a new plan needed to take into account the regions surrounding the Great Barrier Reef if it was to be saved, recommending $1 billion per year over the next decade.

"It may seem like a lot of money, but we know that amount would be effective and it's small by comparison to the economic worth of the Great Barrier Reef -– which is around $20 billion per year," Brodie said.

Climate Council spokesman professor Will Steffen said this election needed to be about saving the reef through addressing climate change.

"Climate change should be front-and-centre in this election," Steffen said.

"Over the past decade Australians have become increasingly impacted by climate change.

"On the other hand, climate change solutions like renewable energy and battery storage are advancing rapidly, and we have so much to gain by embracing them and transitioning away from fossil fuels."

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