Expert panel calls for urgent rethink on Great Barrier Reef management amid ‘unremitting’ climate crisis
Group chaired by former chief scientist Ian Chubb writes to Tanya Plibersek, saying business as usual on the reef is not an option Leading national experts on the Great Barrier Reef have called for an urgent reassessment of the way the worlds biggest reef system is managed, saying current approaches are too inflexible in the face of unremitting global warming. An established independent expert panel, chaired by the former chief scientist Ian Chubb, wrote to the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek , saying business as usual is no longer an option. The reef was in a transition driven by greenhouse gases emitted to levels unprecedented in 800,000 years, Chubb wrote in a letter published today , warning the effects would worsen in coming decades as greenhouse gas emissions continued. A report from the Australian Academy of Sciences , also released Thursday, said the climatecrisis was likely to damage the reef in ways that could become irreversible by the middle of this century. That report released in conjunction with the advice of the expert panel also recommended a comprehensive review of reef management. Sign up for Guardian Australias free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup This week UN science advisers recommended the reef stay off a list of world heritage sites in danger this year , but asked for a progress report in February next year before a decision on the danger list was made again in mid-2024 by the 21-country World Heritage committee. Climate change is widely accepted as the most serious threat to the reef. Ocean heating, caused primarily by fossil fuel burning, has seen corals across the reef experience six mass bleaching events since 1998 four in the past seven years. The present suite of policies for GBR management has served its purpose, yielding generally positive outcomes albeit with some weaknesses, Chubb wrote. The panel has taken the view, however, that the current policy framework, and funding to support new knowledge and ultimately its translation, is not flexible enough to cope with the rapidity of global warming, which shows no signs of slowing let alone stopping. Recommendations from the panel included establishing more regionalised responses, including decisions on which reefs and which species were the most important to focus on. Decision-making for conservation and sustainable use of the GBR will need to be more selective and questions need to be asked, such as: which region/s should be the focus of attention which reefs, which corals, which species, which ecosystems? the panel wrote. Management plans must be flexible to enable decision-makers to respond quickly as the ecological, social, economic and cultural values of the GBR are affected by global warming. In return, actions and investments should be evaluated and changed as necessary. Sign up to Morning Mail Our Australian morning briefing breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you whats happening and why it matters after newsletter promotion There was a broadly under-utilised opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge with Indigenous communities, whose understanding of the reef extends back prior to its contemporary form emerging after the last ice age, the letter said. Chubbs panel was responding to a request for advice from Plibersek, who welcomed the advice. She said the government was determined to better protect and restore our precious reef so it can be enjoyed by our kids and grandkids and said there was more to do. There are at least 58 programs that support the Great Barrier Reef, including improving water quality, using First Nations knowledge, eradicating invasive species and more. We want to make sure were investing in projects that give the reef the best chance of a healthy future. In responses to a Unesco monitoring mission to the reef, the government promised it would implement climate targets in line with keeping global heating to 1.5C. Experts have said the governments pledge so far falls short of that goal.