News & Media Opinion Pieces An ABC of Threats to the Great Barrier Reef

An ABC of Threats to the Great Barrier Reef

The dredging of the harbour adjacent to Gladstone to prepare for the gas port at Curtis Island has coincided with the appearance of severely diseased fish in the harbour. This has increased the degree of concerns over the lack of action to prevent harm to the reef. In an article in the ABC Drum, DEA has drawn attention to the many potential pollutants flowing onto the Reef from huge coal and CSG developments in Queensland.

If it comes to pass, will the Great Barrier Reef with all its beauty, tourism and fishing, be exchanged for short-term fossil-fuel profits, royalties and the temporary balancing of budgets?

The estuaries and the ports are the sewer end of the pollutions of vast onshore fossil fuel developments within the river catchments and it is the cumulative impact that is most likely to decide the future of the Reef already under stress from sediment, nutrient and pesticide run-off and a rise in sea temperature.

What is at stake?

The Reef represents more than 10% of the world’s coral reefs, is home to more than 1 million species and provides Australia with more than $6 billion in annual national revenue! Prof Hoegh-Guldberg of University of Queensland.

“Reef industries, such as tourism and fishing, which contribute approximately $5.4 billion annually to the Australian economy and employ about 63,000 people, are reliant on a healthy environment.” WWF

See also the Access Economic Report.

By contrast coal in Queensland has 28,000 workers and produces $A 1.8 billion royalties. Gas has $48m royalties but it is early days yet.

Summary of threats to the GBR

The ABC four corners program “Great Barrier Grief” is an excellent introduction.

Land run-off

Farming and horticulture– sediment, nutrient and pesticide. This has been addressed by government and programs are in place to try and limit it.

From the fossil fuel industry– emptying of flooded mines, heavy metals and hydrocarbons. This has not been addressed.

Coastal activity

Dredging, industry, spills, collision and accidents from increased coastal ports and shipping.

Fish disease after dredging at Gladstone.

Physical and chemical changes in the sea

Acidification affecting fish and corals.

Temperature and sea level rise—coral bleaching. Annual mass bleaching events are predicted by 2030-2040, read the report on the impacts of warming and climate change.

Inadequate regulation

Regulation of fossil fuel proposals is inadequate and does not protect human health or the environment and it would seem that any rejection of proposals, however inappropriate, is very unlikely.
See and DEA submissions to the Queensland government.


Jobs and income from coal and gas in Queensland may ultimately be similar to those from the Great Barrier Reef. We can assume from its actions to date that government believes it can have both. This may be a catastrophic misjudgement. The resource boom, to which Queensland contributes in a major way, may be a tipping point in the face of unprecedented existing threats to the reef from rising sea temperature, ocean acidification, increasing disease risks, risks from alien species, and predictions of increased annual mass bleaching events. Further there is little monitoring in place to determine coal and gas impacts. 

If we consider the GBR as a tourism asset, this is already being eroded as part of Dutch disease. Predictably the resource boom has had the effect of driving up the Australian dollar making other export sectors of the Australian economy, particularly manufacturing, tourism and education less competitive in international markets so that for every percentage of GDP expansion in the resource sector, there is an equivalent contraction in these other sectors.