The Great Barrier Reef is, undeniably, one of the most unique, biodiverse and complex ecosystems in the world. However, this iconic World Heritage area has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons, with major controversy surrounding the bizarre $444.3 million federal grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a small not-for-profit.
In Wildlife Queensland’s early days, fighting for the Reef was one of its prime activities, and as of recent times, the Society has played a role in its conservation and protection by supporting the campaigns of organisations such as WWF and AMCS.
Currently, while developing a policy to guide our activities with respect to the GBR, it became evident that the major focus of federal and state governments, as well as NGOs, has been addressing the Reef’s major threats. However, what is not being adequately addressed is the role that coastal and island development has played in the decline of the health of the Great Barrier Reef and its biodiversity.
Of the 29 resorts situated in the Reef, only 14 remain operational. The remainder are desolate: these once luxurious oases offering sought-after tropical experiences are now in ruins as a result of financial hardship or cyclone damage. The impact that these abandoned resorts have on the surrounding environment and species (including turtles, sea birds and dolphins) has been largely undocumented, and there have been no recorded efforts of rehabilitation.
However, recent announcements by the Queensland Government may demonstrate a step towards recognition and improved conservation practises regarding coastal and island development. The Queensland Government has announced a $25 million infrastructure grant to encourage owners to “grow, green and clean” the resorts on Great Keppel Island. Further, another $25 million has been promised as investment in reconnecting power and water to the now-demolished Great Keppel Island Resort, located off the coast of Rockhampton.
The three categories outlined in the grant include ‘growing’ tourism, ‘greening’ tourism experiences and ‘cleaning’ legacy waste in the area. However, with loopholes in place only requiring applications to meet one of the three criteria for a successful submission, this grant does not explicitly require either rehabilitation or “green” practises from applicants.
It is evident that the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are not doing enough with regards to this issue to improve conservation and biodiversity for this World Heritage-Listed area. While the Queensland Government appears to be making an attempt to redevelop existing resorts, Wildlife Queensland is of the view that development must be confined to islands where previous approvals have been given. Furthermore, we maintain that legislation and regulations require amendment to ensure that any development is underpinned by a financial provision scheme involving rehabilitation in the event of business venture failure, but not at the expense of the taxpayer.
Once finalised, this policy will be circulated to members from the relevant state political parties, and we will be sure to keep Wildlife Queensland members and supporters up-to-date with any outcomes.