Waterways healthy but reef still under threat

ENVIRONMENT

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Water flowing into the great barrier reef is healthy but the fragile ecosystem is still under threat according to the Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership.

The Wet Tropics Report Card was released yesterday and shows 90 per cent of the waterways that flow into the reef received positive health grades.

The Daintree area was the highest performer, graded ‘Very Good’ (A) in the freshwater basin.

The Report Card assesses the condition of the nine river catchments in the Wet Tropics from the Daintree to the Herbert. 

The latest report was produced using data from the July 2016 to June 2017 reporting period and does not account for the heavy rain and flooding from early 2018.

Chairperson of the partnership, Professor Steve Turton, said the below-average rainfall has led to healthier waterways but the next report card may not be so positive.

“Lower rainfall is associated with lower loads of nutrients and sediments running off to the Reef and, over the last three reporting periods, we’ve had very dry climatic conditions,” he said.

“This trend broke with extensive flooding in early 2018, which is likely to have flushed pollutants off the land into rivers and creeks.

“It will be will be interesting to see how the grades fare in next year’s report card.”

While healthy water flowing into the reef is a positive thing, Professor Turton said other environmental factors are still causing significant problems for the reef.

The report card states climate change is the biggest threat to the reef as ‘marine heatwaves’ become more common.

“During the 2016-17 reporting period we had high sea temperatures which resulted in a second back-to-back coral bleaching event,” he said.

“Despite this, inshore coral communities suffered only minor loss of coral cover. The surveys for offshore coral were conducted before the second bleaching event that largely affected reefs between Cairns and Townsville, so next year’s report card will provide a better picture of how offshore coral grades were affected.”

“While climate change is a global issue, a significant difference can be made by improving water quality to give the Reef a better chance of recovery from future bleaching events.”

The Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership also works with councils and communities to improve waterway health through projects that restore priority wetlands along the coast, fix gully and stream bank erosion and support farmers to change land management practices.

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