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Coasts and Oceans

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

5 September2008

Ban on greenhouse gas storage in the Great Barrier Reef

The protection of the iconic Great Barrier Reef will be strengthened by banning geosequestration in the Marine Park, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced this week.

The Ministers said mining and drilling activities had long been prohibited throughout the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and new legislative changes to be introduced into the Senate would expand that prohibition to include the geological storage of carbon dioxide – otherwise known as geosequestration.

"The Reef is the world's largest living organism, celebrated both at home and abroad for its stunning beauty and international environmental significance, so it is vital that we protect it now and into the future, particularly as it struggles with the impacts of climate change and declining water quality," Mr Garrett said.

"The new amendments underline the Government's commitment to ensuring that the Reef is given the best possible chance to regain its inbuilt natural resilience and ability to cope with other environmental pressures."

Great Barrier Reef biodiversity.

Reef biodiversity featuring Acropora sp., blue chromis, yellow damselfish, purple fairy basslet and colourful crinoids, at Bowl Reef. Image courtesy of GBRMPA.

Mr Ferguson said the capture and geological storage of carbon dioxide was one of a number of options to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but locations other than the Great Barrier Reef were more appropriate.

"Australia is one of the first countries in the world to establish a framework to support the deployment of important technology to help lower emissions with the Offshore Petroleum (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008,” he said.

"We have been very clear that the Reef is not being considered for the geological storage of greenhouse gases. This amendment provides absolute confidence that activities like mining, drilling, and geosequestration will not take place within the Reef."

The amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act have been tabled in the Senate.

Coral Triangle Initiative workshop in November

Coral sea.

Gorgonian fan and diver in the Coral sea. Image courtesy of Mike Ball.

From 10 to 14 November, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts will host a workshop in Townsville focusing on governance, capacity building, and building networks between representatives of a number of Asian Pacific countries and Australian experts.

Representatives of seven countries - Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea - will discuss marine management and regional security measures for their shared reef system.

The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security is a collaborative approach to coral reef management and extends to issues relating to food security.

It involves support from non-government organisations as well as the Australian and United States Governments. The Australian Government is supporting the initiative through the provision of scientific and governance expertise.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority appointments

Melissa George.

Melissa George.

Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, has announced the appointment of two new members to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and restored Indigenous membership to the body.

“I am pleased to announce the appointments of Ms Melissa George and Mr Russell Beer to the Marine Park Authority,” Mr Garrett said.

“Ms George and Mr Beer will bring valuable skills and experience in managing the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable use of one of our most significant environmental assets – the Great Barrier Reef.

“Ms George has extensive expertise in protected area and natural resource management, as well as in Indigenous matters, and her appointment delivers on the Government's election promise to restore an Indigenous member to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“Mr Beer practices in the areas of government advisory and commercial law, and has extensive experience in business, legal and corporate advice. With a strong leadership role in Far North Queensland, Mr Beer also brings valuable regional business and community perspectives.”

Russell Beer.

Russell Beer.

Melissa George is a Wulgurukaba woman, whose traditional country includes Magnetic Island and the greater Townsville area of North Queensland. Ms George currently chairs the Indigenous Advisory Committee, which advises the Environment Minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. She has extensive expertise in cultural heritage, land and sea management and traditional owner and Indigenous community issues.

Russell Beer lives in Cairns and is a partner in a Queensland-wide law firm. He is currently Chairman of Advance Cairns, the peak economic development co-ordination body for Far North Queensland, and is a former member of the Ministerial Advisory Council of the Australian Government's Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility.

Ms George has been appointed for a four-year term and Mr Beer for a three-year term.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is the principal adviser to the Government on the care, development and management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Australian Government supports commercial fishing initiative

Bigeye trevally.

Bigeye trevally. Image courtesy of photolibrary.com

The Rudd Government has supported the launch of a new campaign at the Sydney Fish Market to promote the commercial fishing industry in Sydney and regional areas.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke attended the launch of the campaign, Brought to you by our fishers, which received $500,000 in Australian Government support.

Mr Burke said the Government recognised commercial fishers were under pressure from factors such as the global price of fuel and the campaign would provide a boost for the industry.

It will highlight the unique contribution made by the men and women in the commercial fishing industry to their local communities, regional jobs, culture and cuisine.

"As the campaign will remind consumers, the Australian seafood industry injects more than $2.2 billion into the national economy and underpins many thousands of jobs," Mr Burke said.

"It supports small businesses and contributes to regional tourism across the country.

"It is important that the contribution of those in the commercial fishing sector is recognised and consumers are reminded of the benefits of high-quality fresh Australian seafood."

Mr Burke said he had met with those involved in the commercial fishing industries in various parts of Australia.

"I’ve been impressed by their innovation and have seen some great work to ensure these industries are both sustainable and dynamic," Mr Burke said.

"I have visited an oyster farm, a fish processing facility, rock lobster fishery, southern bluefin tuna facilities and met with fishers and aquaculture operators from the Torres Strait to Tasmania.

"The common theme is the desire to secure a long-term future for these industries and the Rudd Government will continue to support that priority."

The Minister said the Government had also delivered on a number of key election commitments to benefit the seafood industry, through the 2008-09 Budget.

This included initiatives to boost innovation and productivity along the entire production chain.

"The Rudd Government is committing $10 million to the Seafood Industry Innovation and Productivity Program as part of a broader $35 million productivity program for regional food producers," Mr Burke said.

"In addition, our $5 million Promoting Australian Produce Program will help industries market their high quality Australian produce, both at home and in key export markets."

Climate zones shift south as Australia’s northern oceans warm

Great Barrier Reef reefslope.

Great Barrier Reef reefslope. Image courtesy of GBRMPA.

Since the 1950s, average sea surface temperatures in northeast and northwest tropical Australian waters have increased steadily, causing a 200km shift southwards of climate zones along the northeast coast and an expansion of the area that can be designated “the tropics”.

Australian Institute of Marine Science scientist and climate change team leader Dr Janice Lough, who has published her findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said that if current trends continued, annual sea surface temperatures in northern Australian tropical waters could be around half a degree warmer and those of more southern parts about two degrees warmer within the next 100 years, with dire consequences for our coral reefs, particularly those in the more southerly areas.

This work provides further evidence of a significant widening of the global tropical belt.

“These rapid changes in oceanic climate are already causing responses in Australia’s tropical marine ecosystems and, if present rates continue, these will only intensify,” Dr Lough said.

Many components of Australia’s unique tropical ecosystems are sensitive and vulnerable to the changing climate, as are many of Australia’s marine flora and fauna.  Although well protected, Australia’s tropical reefs have not been immune to already observed impacts of a changing climate, such as mass coral bleaching events linked to warmer waters.

Dr Lough has analysed temperature records going back to 1950, seeking answers to the following questions:  Has Australia’s tropical climate already changed?  Are rates of warming similar along the northwest and northeast coasts?  Are there latitudinal differences in the rate of warming?

Her study used instrumental sea surface temperature records to examine annual average, maximum and minimum sea surface temperatures.  Each variable has a profound impact on coral growth and health.  She has found that Australia’s tropical ocean climate has already changed and the rates of change vary in different regions.

Dr Lough’s work is part of an attempt to gather hard data on regional variation in the impacts of climate change.  It has long been known that climate change effects are not evenly distributed and will affect different areas in different ways.

She has found that annual sea surface temperatures down to around 30 degrees south (about level with Coffs Harbour on the east coast) have already warmed between 1950 and 2007.  This warming has shifted average climatic zones by about 200km southwards on the east coast and about half that distance on the west coast.

“A possible indicator of greater thermal stress in the southern Great Barrier Reef is the evidence from three recent large-scale coral bleaching events,” Dr Lough said.  These were recorded in 1998 and 2002 over large areas of the Reef, and in a more limited range in 2006.

“The rapidity and magnitude of warming along Australia’s tropical coastal regions is of great concern for maintenance of the integrity of their diverse tropical ecosystems, especially coral reefs,” she said.

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