Reef Water Science Taskforce interim report released for consultation

Published Monday, 14 December, 2015 at 11:35 AM

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef
The Honourable Steven Miles

Climate change is the most significant long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef but work undertaken now to improve water quality will help to build its resilience into the future.

That is a key finding of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce’s Interim Report, presented today to Great Barrier Reef Minister Dr Steven Miles by Taskforce Chair and Chief Scientist Dr Geoff Garrett AO.

“Last week I was in Paris as part of the United Nations COP21 Climate Summit where we saw clearly that the world is finally accepting that the need for action is now urgent,” Dr Miles said.

“This week I’m delighted to accept the Taskforce’s Interim Report. This is an important milestone in developing the Queensland Government’s approach to meeting our ambitious water quality targets and the priorities for investing an additional $90 million over the next four years.”

The targets are to reduce nitrogen run-off by up to 80 per cent and reduce total suspended sediment run-off by up to 50 per cent in key catchments such as the Wet Tropics and Burdekin by 2025.

Dr Garrett said there was a significant challenge ahead in delivering a transformational change program across such a vast scale. 

“The Great Barrier Reef is precious – but it is in trouble. A sustained and greater effort is needed to ensure the Reef is protected for future generations to enjoy.

“A healthy reef, that is resilient to the future impacts of climate change, needs clean water. To have clean water, we need to greatly reduce the amount of fertiliser, sediment and chemicals coming from all sources – farms, urban development and industry.

“Despite significant investment and goodwill from the government and all partners, accelerated uptake of improved land management practices is needed. We need to take stronger action and we need to do it now.”

Dr Garrett said the Taskforce consulted with multiple stakeholders and key groups to gather their views on what management approaches have worked well and what haven’t, and their views on investment priorities and how to meet the water quality targets.

He said the Taskforce’s key findings related to complexity in areas such as governance, science and program delivery; fragmentation of policy, funding and extension services; and poor communication and engagement.

“Achieving the targets will require a long-term commitment, strong leadership, additional funding and financial and technical assistance to land managers,” Dr Garrett said.

“There is no one silver bullet. That is why the Taskforce is recommending a range of tools to deliver the significant changes needed to cost-effectively improve reef water quality.

“They include more financial incentives and other market instruments, better extension, a focus on innovation, targeted finer scale monitoring, substantially improved communication, outcomes-based regulations that are staged over time and greater leveraging of investment.”

Dr Miles noted that the Interim Report provided a no-holds-barred account of the scale of the challenge ahead, including a finding that the level of financial investment needed to achieve the targets would most likely go beyond the funds currently allocated.

“We all have an important role to play in providing clean water for the reef,” he said.

“For land managers it can seem like a daunting challenge, but industry leaders have demonstrated time and again that improved land management practices lead not just to better environmental outcomes but also to a better bottom line.

“In fact a number of the initiatives proposed by the Taskforce would provide valuable opportunities for land managers into the future.”

Dr Garrett said the Taskforce would now seek comments from a wide range of stakeholders on the conclusions and recommendations of the Interim Report.

“The purpose of this Interim Report is to outline initial findings of the Taskforcein terms of identifying where we are now, where we want to be and how to get there,” he said.

“Now we want to know people’s views on the initial recommendations about the types of tools we should be using and what the funding priorities should be, ahead of providing our final report to the Minister by May 2016.”

Submissions close on Monday 22 February 2016.

The Executive Summary, Interim Report and feedback survey are available on the Great Barrier Reef Living Wonder website –