Research, not scaremongering, will save Great Barrier Reef

Dredged muck was dumped in front of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane office to protest dredging near the Great Barrier Reef.
Dredged muck was dumped in front of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane office to protest dredging near the Great Barrier Reef. Contributed

UNTIL recently, there's been a missing voice in the growing propaganda war being fought over the Great Barrier Reef.

Although she's a conservationist and uncomfortable in the media spotlight, Dr Alison Jones says it's time to speak out against the scaremongering and deliberate misrepresentation of facts about dredging near the reef.

Dr Jones, an adjunct researcher at CQUniversity and an authority on coral reefs, says it's clear there is no credible, peer-reviewed evidence to suggest dredging is damaging coral reefs.

"Everywhere I hear scaremongering…even my 80-year-old mother came to me and said the reef is being destroyed because of all the dredging," she said.

"That was the instigator for speaking out. I was horrified.

"A lot of the people pointing their fingers at dredging and the coal industry…are reading headlines on their iPhone, but certainly not drilling back to the primary sources of information."

Dr Jones' claims are controversial, but riddled with common-sense.

Green groups have asked her to "find a link" between the reef state in the Keppel Islands and the issues being faced in Gladstone Harbour, but she says it's simply too long a bow to draw.

Dr Jones said scaremongering over the Abbot Point dredging plan threatens to undermine efforts to tackle the more serious issues facing the reef.

"Hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars are now being poured into studies, offsets, monitoring, campaigning, legal costs and holding costs unrelated to the major factors that really affect the reef," she said.

"Greenpeace, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, The Greens, some scientists and increasingly the media and the community are wrong to portray dredging and dredge spoil as a major threat to the reef's survival.

"Precious money spent fighting legal battles would be better spent on much needed research … there are problems we need to get ready for... and it's about humans, not just saving the reef for the sake of it."

Greenpeace's Great Barrier Reef website has been shared more than125,000 times on social media and Dr Jones fears people are jumping on an uninformed bandwagon.

A recent Australian Institute of Marine Science study found that in the past 27 years, 50% of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef had been lost.

Most affected were the mid and outer shelf reefs in the southern region and most of the damage occurred during extreme weather events in the three years before the comprehensive study.

AIMS researcher Glenn De'Ath's study, which was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, examined data from more than 2200 reef surveys dating back to 1985.

An estimation of causes for the decline made no mention of dredging.

"This study is being misrepresented," Dr Jones said.

"It's a very robust study by highly respected scientists, but it's being picked up by the media, the public and the green groups… and massaged into what they want governments to hear.

"We're not talking about areas where dredging has occurred, where dredge spoil was placed or where dredging plumes might have reached necessarily, so you can't assess the impact of dredging through that paper.

"If I thought dredging and stopping coal ports would save the Great Barrier Reef, I'd be up there with placards.

"But what scares me is in the next 10 years we're having the same interview and we've poured all our money and resources into looking at dredging.

"While we're doing that, something else is causing coral losses and we could be doing something about it.

"It's not the entire reef losing 50% of cover… that's just scary Mary. The northern reefs are pristine and many haven't changed at all, or have increased coral cover."

Dr Jones said the political debate was a distraction, causing money to be funnelled into the wrong areas.

She cited the Mackay Conservation Council's second legal challenge on the Abbot Point approval, which Get

Up funded through a loud campaign to the tune of $150,000.

"Give me $150,000 and I'll tell you the sort of research I'd do," she said.

"Money is not a bottomless pit and when governments are fighting legal challenges, they are not spending money on real solutions."

Dr Jones said the largest single issue facing the Great Barrier Reef today was the crown-of-thorns starfish.

The question remains, what is causing the severe outbreaks? There are theories, but no consensus.

"If we're capable of being the baddies, we can also be the goodies… but we need to get our thinking caps on and start working out how we can do that," Dr Jones said.

"If we offered a $1 million reward world-wide to solve the problem of the crown-of-thorns starfish, I wonder what would happen."

Will dredging destroy our reefs?

This poll ended on 21 April 2014.

Yes, without a doubt - 29%

No, I don't think so - 70%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  editors picks environment great barrier reef nature science

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