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Great Barrier Reef 'still under threat'

September 21, 2015

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is still being damaged by the effects of climate change and farming, a report says. It says efforts to improve water quality are falling far short of the targets that have been set.

Coral and fish at the reef WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images/AFP/W. West

The report issued on Monday by the government of the state of Queensland, where the Great Barrier Reef is located, concluded that the 2,300-kilometer (1,429-mile) coral reef was in poor condition and facing a great threat from waters that are warming and becoming more acidic.

The report found additionally that only 13 percent of sugar-cane growers were using recommended best-practice procedures for nutrients and only 30 percent for pesticides, meaning that runoff from agricultural land continues to cause damage to the reef.

However, grain farmers were close to achieving targets, and graziers were making good progress, the report said.

But it said that despite all attempts to save the reef, it had still lost half of its coral cover over the past 30 years.

Divers swimming above coral. WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Warming waters are causing coral systems to die offImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. West

'Bad report card'

Queensland's Environment Minister Steven Miles from the ruling Labor Party voiced concern at the report's findings.

"If one of my kids came home with a report card like this, I'd be a bit disappointed," he told national broadcaster ABC, noting that progress on targets had stalled from 2013-2014.

Miles said the international community was right to remain concerned about the reef's state of health, even though the United Nations World Heritage Committee came up short of listing the Barrier Reef as "in danger" in July of this year.

The Committee said it would nonetheless monitor the reef, one of Australia's main tourist attractions, for the next four years.

Environmental flop

Last week, it was revealed that the federal government under former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott had spent 400,000 Australian dollars (254,000 euros, US$287,000) lobbying Heritage Committee members not to give the reef an "in danger" listing. The Abbott administration also cut funding for environment programs and removed hundreds of staff from the Department of the Environment.

Diver holding a starfish WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Sea life at the reef is also in massive declineImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. West

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, and is home to 1,500 species of fish and 3,000 types of mollusc. Each year, some two million people per year visit the reef, which is listed as a World Heritage Site by the UN.

Although tourism to the reef generates an enormous amount of revenue, the presence of such crowds has led to concerns that tourism is also contributing its share to the dramatic decline in the ecosystem's health.

tj/rg (dpa, Reuters)