Media Releases - 30 August 2019

Official report: Deforestation puts reef at risk

Today the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released its 5-yearly statutory Outlook Report. The Report states that "(w)ithout additional local, national and global action on the greatest threats, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem will remain very poor.” Climate change, followed by poor water quality are listed as the key threats to the Reef. 

The Wilderness Society’s National Nature Campaigner, Jessica Panegyres, provides the following comments on the report:  “This official report makes clear that ongoing deforestation is a direct threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef. It explicitly links the high levels of clearing in recent years, to the wind-back of native vegetation laws by the former Queensland coalition government.  

“While these laws have recently been strengthened, there is a continued push by some political and industry quarters to return to a more laissez faire approach.  

“I want to state plainly that any future undermining of Queensland’s current deforestation laws will increase the harm to the Reef. And this increases the chance of a “World Heritage-in-danger” listing.  

“The report highlights that deforestation is having an impact. To fix this, there’s a role for industry to lift its game; a role for the state government to hold the line on clearing controls; and there’s a critical role for the federal government to control deforestation in Reef catchments.  

“Right now, the Federal Environment Minister is considering whether or not to approve a major deforestation project in a Great Barrier Reef catchment. Minister Sussan Ley should reject the Kingvale proposal and put the interest of the Reef and all Australians first. 

 “The Outlook report issues a plea to all of us to act while we still can, saying ‘The window of opportunity to improve the Reef’s long-term future is now.’ It is time for credible climate change action and an end to deforestation, in order to give the Reef a chance,” Jessica concluded.  

For further comment contact Jessica on  0424 090 396.

See further information on the drivers of deforestation in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.  

Relevant references from the Outlook Report are below: 

  • “The decline in ecosystem condition in the Region over the past five years has been exacerbated by both acute and chronic disturbances, such as record high sea temperatures and poor water quality.” (p. 82.)  
  • “Vegetation clearing in the Catchment continues to contribute to soil erosion and release of fine sediment into the Region.”(p. 262) 
  • “Vegetation clearing in the Catchment, specifically of woody vegetation, has increased since 2009” (p. 70)
  • “The 2014 Outlook Report elevated the risk posed by modifying coastal habitats to very high. Since that time, the clearing rate in the Catchment increased overall, peaking at 47 per cent (1660 square kilometres) of the total statewide woody vegetation clearing rates in 2016–17.(p. 703-4).  
    • The increase in clearing of woody vegetation coincided with major changes to the Queensland vegetation clearing legislation in 2013 (p. 706-7).  
    • These vegetation management laws were reinstated in mid-2018 to provide consistent protection to regrowth vegetation in all Reef catchments (p. 708).
  • “Land clearing is a major contributor to climate change due to the loss of carbon storage habitats, as well as changes in rainfall and temperature dynamics (p. 701). 
  • Historically, intensive and sprawling anthropogenic land uses across the Catchment have shaped the extent of clearing; this has not altered (Section 6.4). 
  • In 2017–18, 93 per cent (approximately 3690 square kilometres) of the total statewide woody vegetation cleared was primarily for increased pasture for grazing. This represents a two per cent increase since 2014–15.” 
  • Coastal ecosystems trend is “poor”: “Since 2014, the woody vegetation clearing rate in the Catchment continued to increase. The main purpose for this clearing was for agriculture.” (p. 80)  
  • “Coastal ecosystems that support the Reef remain in poor condition overall. However, the trends of most components have stabilised. Woodlands and forests is the only coastal ecosystem type that continues to deteriorate following a further reduction in its extent. Continued modification of coastal ecosystems will increase sediment inflow, reduce connectivity to the Reef and reduce capacity of these habitats to support the Region’s ecosystems and species.” 
  • “The scientific evidence is clear: initiatives that will halt and reverse the effects of climate change at a global level and effectively improve water quality at a regional scale are the most urgent to improve the Region’s long-term outlook.” (Exec summary)