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Annual Dinner of the Lizard Island Research Foundation

Speech by Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment

16 October 1996


Thank you for inviting me to address the annual dinner of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation. It is a pleasure to be in Sydney with you tonight.

The Great Barrier Reef

We share a common interest in the one of the most outstanding marine areas in the world. Many would describe the Great Barrier Reef as the most outstanding marine area on Earth.

It is the largest reef system in the world with 2904 coral reefs covering 20,055 sq kms.

Within this reef system there are over 300 coral cays and 600 continental islands. If I was to follow the speaking notes provided to me for tonight, I could spend the next 15 minutes reciting statistics on why the Reef is so special. I could even discuss rather complex issues such as the geomorphological significance of the reef. However, given my limited experience in the assessment of morphological diversity, I might leave out some of the statistics. If, however, anyone would like to know exactly how many square kilometres of deep water sea grass have been recently discovered, I do have that information with me.

Anyone who has been to the Reef knows how special it is. The diversity and beauty of its coral structures are impossible to describe in statistics or in scientific terms. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is, of course, also a haven for an incredible number of fish species - the Lizard Island region is itself a major spawning ground for black marlin.

The Reef is also inhabited by other special animals - endangered sea turtles and dugong, seabirds and, of course, cetaceans such as the Humpback Whale.

I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time watching Humpback Whales. It was quite special to witness these majestic creatures and the experience certainly reinforced my commitment to protect our delicate marine environment.

I can only assume that the members of the Lizard Island Research Foundation have been similarly inspired by the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. Your support for research on the Reef, through committing funds for the Lizard Island Research Foundation, has been substantial and is very much appreciated.

I would like to thank the Foundation for raising over $1.5 million to facilitate research on the Great Barrier Reef since 1978. As you will know, $85,000 was raised last year for capital works projects at the Lizard Island Research Station.

Lizard Island Research Station

There are several research stations on the Great Barrier Reef, the most northerly of which is the Lizard Island Research Station.

The Station has worked closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and has a long history of involvement in a number of excellent research projects on reef-fish ecology, crown-of-thorns starfish biology, coral growth and other ecological issues.

I understand that there has been extensive research on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, although less research on the northern Reef.

I look forward to the role that the Lizard Island Research Station will play in increasing our knowledge base for the northern part of the Reef.

I have never been to Lizard Island. According to a briefing paper provided to me, Lizard Island was selected as the site for the station because of its 'strategic importance'.

I am assured that the wonderful beaches, perfect climate and excellent diving were considered, if anything, disadvantages, perhaps because they would distract otherwise dedicated scientists from their work.

I note from your newsletter that the Research Station's labour force comprises a number of volunteers who are prepared to endure the harsh conditions on Lizard Island. I would like to thank those who have volunteered to work on Lizard Island for their sacrifices.

In this context, it has been suggested to me that there is a serious deficiency in our scientific understanding of the recuperative and therapeutic characteristics of wave motion, particularly when combined with exposure to highly radiant sunshine and an abundance of good seafood. I'm sure most of my staff would be prepared to volunteer to collect data on this highly contentious issue on Lizard Island.

In all seriousness, the efforts of volunteers on Lizard Island are much appreciated and I do recognise that such volunteers make a positive contribution to the Research Station - many tasks could not be done without their assistance.

I was reminded only last week of a phrase which may be familiar to many of you.

'Research is expensive, but so is guessing.'

Research is expensive, but the long term benefits of good research should far outweigh the initial costs. The research being conducted on the Great Barrier Reef - including the research being conducted on Lizard Island - is a good investment. I am very pleased that the members of the Foundation have chosen to invest in the Reef.

Your generosity in contributing to the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation will, I hope, be rewarded on a number of levels. On one level it will help ensure that the industries that rely upon the reef - particularly the tourism and fishing industries - continue to be sustainable and profitable.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best models of sustainable and multiple use of our natural resources. We should do all that is possible to ensure the continued success of this model. Our experiences in managing the Great Barrier Reef should assist us in addressing resource-use conflicts in other parts of Australia.

On a perhaps more important level, your generosity will help ensure that we have the knowledge needed to protect, for future generations, an asset that has been recognised by the world as being of 'outstanding universal value'. That is the phrase used in the World Heritage Convention. The Great Barrier was judged to have met this criterion when it was included in the list of world heritage properties in 1981.

Australians place a high value on the protection of our environment. It is a value that cannot, in many cases, be assessed in economic terms. I think it is important that Australian's recognise that protecting our environment is an objective that should be given a priority equal to our other objectives, such as economic growth. The Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation demonstrates the capacity of Australians to do this.

Research/management issues

The research and monitoring projects carried out at Lizard Island play a crucially important role in the management of the Reef and in the evaluation of these management efforts.

I note that the Lizard Island Research Station has a number of interesting projects including:

studies on the rehabilitation and restoration of coral reef using replanted coral pieces;

studies on the juvenile stage of the crown-of-thorns starfish;

the effects of prawn trawl bycatch on seabird populations;

the behaviour of fish larvae; as well as

long-term involvement in GBRMPA's water quality monitoring program for the Great Barrier Reef

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI)

Over the past 20 years, Australia, through its research community and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, has developed considerable expertise in the ecologically sustainable management of coral reefs and related ecosystems.

This expertise is becoming increasingly recognised internationally.

For example, earlier this year Australia, one of the founding partners of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI),was invited to assume leadership of ICRI for a two year term.

ICRI is a global partnership of individual countries, non-government organisations and the private sector, along with international and regional organisations.

The partnership was established because of increasing concern about the global decline of coral reefs.

If allowed to continue, this decline may lead to a loss of most of the world's coral reefs during the next century. Many of these reefs are in the waters of developing nations. This emphasises Australia's special responsibility to contribute to the global understanding and conservation of coral reefs. The Foundation, I believe, is helping Australia discharge this responsibility.

In taking over the stewardship of ICRI, Australia is now well positioned to play a key role in strengthening the capacity of countries in the Asia-Pacific region to protect coral reefs and to use their reef resources wisely.

I have no doubt that the experience and expertise of GBRMPA will ensure that Australia's term as Secretariat will be marked by success.


The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's natural wonders and it is in recognition of this that it has been included on the World Heritage List.

As custodians, we are responsible for preserving the Reef not only for present and future generations of Australians but also for the rest of the world.

Research Stations such as Lizard Island have an important contribution to make in assisting Australia to meet its national and international responsibilities in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

Your support for the Lizard Island Research Station is warmly appreciated.

Commonwealth of Australia