Year-on-year bleaching threatens Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status


Terry Hughes, James Cook University; Barry Hart, Monash University, and Karen Hussey, The University of Queensland

The Great Barrier Reef has already been badly damaged by global warming during three extreme heatwaves, in 1998, 2002 and 2016. A new bleaching event is under way now. The Conversation

As shown in a study published in Nature today, climate change is not some distant future threat. It has already degraded large tracts of the Great Barrier Reef over the past two decades.

The extreme marine heatwave in 2016 killed two-thirds of the corals along a 700km stretch of the northern Great Barrier Reef, from Port Douglas to Papua New Guinea. It was a game-changer for the reef and for how we manage it.

Our study shows that we cannot climate-proof coral reefs by improving water quality or reducing fishing pressure. Reefs in clear water were damaged as much as muddy ones, and the hot water didn’t stop at the boundaries of no-fishing zones. There is nowhere to hide from global warming. The process of replacement of dead corals in the northern third of the reef will take at least 10-15 years for the fastest-growing species.

The Great Barrier Reef is internationally recognised as a World Heritage Area. In 2015 UNESCO, the world body with oversight of World Heritage Areas, considered listing the reef as a site “in danger” in light of declines in its health.

Australia’s response falling short

In response to concerns from UNESCO, Australia devised a plan, called the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan. Its ultimate goal is to improve the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the reef: the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef that led to its inscription as a World Heritage Area in 1981.

We have written an independent analysis, delivered to UNESCO, which concludes that to date the implementation of the plan is far too slow and has not been adequately funded to prevent further degradation and loss of the reef’s values. A major shortcoming of the plan is that it virtually ignores the greatest current impact on the Great Barrier Reef: human-caused climate change.

The unprecedented loss of corals in 2016 has substantially diminished the condition of the World Heritage Area, reducing its biodiversity and aesthetic values. Key ecological processes are under threat, such as providing habitat, calcification (the formation of corals’ reef-building stony skeletons) and predation (creatures eating and being eaten by corals). Global warming means that Australia’s aim of ensuring the Great Barrier Reef’s values improve every decade between now and 2050 is no longer attainable for at least the next two decades.

What needs to change

Our report makes 27 recommendations for getting the Reef 2050 Plan back on track. The following are critical:

  • Address climate change and reduce emissions, both nationally and globally. The current lack of action on climate is a major policy failure for the Great Barrier Reef. Local action on water quality (the focus of the Reef 2050 Plan) does not prevent bleaching, or “buy time” for future action on emissions. Importantly, though, it does contribute to the recovery of coral reefs after major bleaching.

  • Reduce run-off of sediment, nutrients and pollutants from our towns and farms. To date the progress towards achieving the water quality targets and uptake of best management practice by farmers is very poor. Improving water quality can help recovery of corals, even if it doesn’t prevent mortality during extreme heatwaves.

  • Provide adequate funding for reaching net zero carbon emissions, for achieving the Reef 2050 Plan targets for improved water quality, and limiting other direct pressures on the reef.

At this stage, we do not recommend that the reef be listed as “in danger”. But if we see more die-backs of corals in the next few years, little if any action on emissions and inadequate progress on water quality, then an “in danger” listing in 2020, when UNESCO will reconsider the Great Barrier Reef’s status, seems inevitable.


This article was co-authored by Diane Tarte, co-director of Marine Ecosystem Policy Advisors Pty Ltd. She was a co-author of the independent report to UNESCO on the Great Barrier Reef.

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University, James Cook University; Barry Hart, Emeritus Professor Water Science, Monash University, and Karen Hussey, Deputy Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions



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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kwxda-68af74?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Contested spaces: saving nature when our beaches have gone to the dogs



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Early in the morning and late in the evening is when shorebirds escape disturbance on the beaches on which their survival depends.
Arnuchulo

Madeleine Stigner, The University of Queensland; Kiran Dhanjal-Adams, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland

This is the ninth article in our Contested Spaces series. These pieces look at the conflicting uses, expectations and norms that people bring to public spaces, the clashes that result and how we can resolve these. The Conversation


There’s no doubt about it, Australians love the beach. And why not? Being outdoors makes us happy, and all beaches are public places in Australia.

Head to a beach like Bondi on Christmas Day and you’ll share that space with more than 40,000 people. But we aren’t just jostling with each other for coveted beach space. Scuttling, waddling, hopping or flying away from beachgoers all around Australia are crabs, shorebirds, baby turtles, crocodiles, fairy penguins and even dingoes.

Beaches are home to an incredible array of animals, and sharing this busy space with people is critical to their survival. But, if we find it hard to share our beaches with each other, how can we possibly find space for nature on our beaches?

Beach birds

Here’s a classic example of how hard it is to share our beaches with nature. Head to a busy beach at dawn, before the crowds arrive, and you will most likely see a number of small birds darting about.

You may recognise them from the short movie Piper – they are shorebirds. As the day progresses, swimmers, kite surfers, dog walkers, horse riders, 4x4s and children descend upon the beach en masse, unwittingly disturbing the shorebirds.

We share beaches with an extraordinary array of life, including many shorebirds.

Unlike seabirds, shorebirds do not spend their life at sea. Instead, they specialise on the beach: foraging for their invertebrate prey, avoiding waves, or resting.

However, shorebird numbers in Australia are declining very rapidly. Several species are officially listed as nationally threatened, such as the critically endangered Eastern Curlew.

There are few places you can let your dog run for as long and as far as it pleases, which is one of the reasons beaches appeal to dog owners. But this disturbance results in heavy costs to the birds as they expend energy taking flight and cannot return to favourable feeding areas. Repeated disturbance can cause temporary or permanent abandonment of suitable habitat.

The world’s largest shorebirds, Eastern Curlews are critically endangered – and Australia is home to about 75% of them over summer.
Donald Hobern/flickr, CC BY

The fascinating thing about many of these shorebirds is that they are migratory. Beachgoers in Korea, China, Indonesia or New Zealand could observe the same individual bird that we have seen in Australia.

Yet these journeys come at a cost. Shorebirds must undertake gruelling flights of up to 16,000 kilometres twice a year to get from their breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska to their feeding grounds in Australia and New Zealand. In their pursuit of an endless summer, they arrive in Australia severely weakened by their travels. They must almost double their body weight before they can migrate again.

And these birds must contend with significant daily disruption on their feeding grounds. A recent study in Queensland found an average of 174 people and 72 dogs were present at any one time on the foreshore of Moreton Bay, along Brisbane’s coastline. And 84% of dogs were off the leash – an off-leash dog was sighted every 700 metres – in potential contravention of regulations on dog control.

Managing the menagerie

One conservation approach is to set up nature reserves. This involves trying to keep people out of large areas of the coastal zone to provide a home for nature. Yet this rarely works in practice on beaches, where there are so many overlapping jurisdictions (for example, councils often don’t control the lower areas of the intertidal zone) that protection is rarely joined up.

The beach-nesting Hooded Plover is unique to Australia where it is listed as vulnerable (and critically endangered in NSW).
Francesco Veronesi/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Benjamint444/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

However, our work at the University of Queensland shows we don’t need conservation reserves in which people are kept out. Quite the reverse. We should be much bolder in opening up areas that are specifically designated as dog off-leash zones, in places where demand for recreation is high.

In the case of Moreton Bay, 97% of foraging migratory shorebirds could be protected from disturbance simply by designating five areas as off-leash recreation zones. Currently, dogs must be kept under close control throughout the intertidal areas of Moreton Bay.

By zoning our beaches carefully, the science tells us that the most intense recreational activities can be located away from critical areas for nature. And there’s no reason why this logic couldn’t be extended to creating peaceful zones for beach users who prefer a quiet day out.

By approaching the problem scientifically, we can meet recreational demand as well as protect nature. Proper enforcement of the boundaries between zones is needed. Such enforcement is effective when carried out in the right places at the right time.

We believe that keeping people and their dogs off beaches to protect nature is neither desirable nor effective. It sends totally the wrong message – successful conservation is about living alongside nature, not separating ourselves from it.

Conservationists and recreationists should be natural allies, both working to safeguard our beautiful coasts. The key is to find ways that people and nature can co-exist on beaches.


You can find other pieces published in the series here.

Madeleine Stigner, Research assistant, The University of Queensland; Kiran Dhanjal-Adams, Research Associate Ecological Modeller, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and Richard Fuller, Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Conservation, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.