Great Barrier Reef Threatened by Climate Change, Chemicals and Sediment
SYDNEY, Australia — Climate change and the flow of farm chemicals and coastal sediment into the waters that wash over one of Australia’s most significant nature areas, the Great Barrier Reef, pose the biggest threats to its survival, according to a government report to Unesco released early Friday.
澳大利亚悉尼——据周五早间向联合国教科文组织(Unesco)提交的一项政府报告称，气候变化以及农用化肥和沿海沉积物的流入对澳大利亚最重要的自然区域大堡礁(Great Barrier Reef)的生存造成最大威胁。
The report was intended to reassure the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that those risks were well managed and that the reef should not be placed on an “in danger” list. But it paints a grim picture of the scale of protecting the 1,400-mile-long reef, and may severely understate the cost of doing so.
A scientist assessing coral mortality on a section of the Great Barrier Reef in an undated photograph. A new report from the Australian government paints a grim picture of the scale of protecting the 1,400-mile-long reef.
The report also ignores plans by the Queensland State government to allow the development of one of the world’s biggest coal mines about 200 miles inland from the reef, and it does not acknowledge the damage to the reef that could flow from the mine or from coal-burning.
This week, scientists from the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reported that the reef had suffered the worst coral bleaching and die-off ever recorded, with stretches of its northern reaches dead after the coral was bathed in warm summer waters. The reef extends along much of the eastern coast of Queensland.
本周，澳大利亚研究理事会珊瑚礁研究项目中心(ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies)的科学家们报告称，大堡礁出现了有记录以来最严重的珊瑚白化和绝种现象，由于浸泡在温暖的夏季海水中，大堡礁北部的珊瑚出现大面积死亡。大堡礁主要沿昆士兰州的东部海岸线分布。
Queensland’s environment minister, Steven Miles, and the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, who is also responsible for Australia’s energy policy, said in the report that “good progress has been made in the first 18 months of this 35-year plan.” They were referring to the governments’ Reef 2050 Plan, released in March 2015.
昆士兰州环境部长史蒂夫·迈尔斯(Steven Miles)和澳大利亚联邦环境部长乔希·弗赖登伯格(Josh Frydenberg)——后者还负责制订该国的能源政策——在报告中表示，“该35年计划的前18个月取得了很大进展”。他们指的是澳大利亚政府2015年3月发布的《大堡礁2050年计划》(Reef 2050 Plan)。
The update shows that of 151 planned measures, including the limiting of sediment and chemical runoff from farms and the better management of starfish predators, 32 have been completed and 103 are underway or on track to begin. At least one is stalled, after the Queensland Parliament rejected laws to prevent land clearing, which speeds erosion and can lead to more sediment flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
But in an introduction to the report, Ian Chubb, formerly Australia’s chief scientist and now the chairman of an independent panel on the reef, warned that climate change posed the most significant threat. “The major impacts on the reef will most likely result from the long-term release of substantial quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he wrote. The burning of fossil fuels creates emissions that contribute to the Earth’s warming.
“There are effects already,” Mr. Chubb continued. “This year saw the most significant coral bleaching event ever recorded for the reef. The clear implication of global warming is that bleaching conditions are highly likely to become more frequent and prolonged.”
Reef 2050 was a response to the Unesco World Heritage Committee’s call for a long-term management plan to ensure the reef retained the World Heritage status it received in 1981. Last year, the United Nations warned that the reef’s outlook was poor, and it asked for an updated report and for evidence of the plan’s effectiveness, as well as an investment strategy to finance the efforts.
联合国教科文组织世界遗产委员会(World Heritage Committee)此前呼吁提供一份长期管理计划，《大堡礁2050年计划》就是对此的回应，它旨在保住大堡礁在1981年获得的世界遗产地位。去年联合国警告称，大堡礁的前景非常糟糕，要求提供最新报告、计划可行性的证据，以及计划的资金筹措策略。
In the interim, the Queensland government commissioned a study to estimate the costs of achieving water quality targets that would significantly improve the reef’s health. Queensland and the federal government have said that halting nitrogen runoff from farms and fine sediment that leeches into the ocean would improve the water quality and allow the reef to better withstand the impacts of climate change and shocks from severe weather like cyclones.
That study, released in July, said the cost for meeting targets along the length of the reef was 8.2 billion Australian dollars, or about $6 billion, to be spent over 10 years. That figure was sharply higher than the roughly $1.5 billion the state and federal governments said would be spent over the next decade on all measures to protect the reef.
“The scale of the investment required is commensurate with the scale of the challenge,” the study said. “Virtually all of the relevant science indicates the Great Barrier Reef is in decline.”
The report to Unesco on Friday said that about $950 million had already been committed to reef-specific measures over the next five years. That amount is part of the federal and the state governments’ $1.5 billion commitment over a decade.
The federal and Queensland governments said the study’s overall cost estimate included “some very expensive high-risk actions,” like nearly $4.2 billion for erosion in one valley to prevent the flow of sediment into the ocean. Removal of that big-ticket item brought the study’s report closer into line financially with the government report to Unesco.
The report on Friday was only an update. It did not offer new spending measures for the reef, nor new targets to reduce pollution. It is likely to draw sharm criticism from environmentalists.
The government ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change last month. The agreement’s target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 percent and 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. But environmentalists say the development of new coal mines highlights the government’s lack of commitment to halting global warming. Opening up a new mine is incompatible with Australia’s environmental obligations, Greenpeace said.
The report to Unesco said the reef’s scale and resilience meant it could recover from the bleaching this year. It said that managing the risks to the reef would be difficult, but that there was a determination to succeed. “The progress to date does not reduce the urgency to address key issues and risks,” it said.