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Healthy Great Barrier Reef, healthy environmental scandal

By Graham Young - posted Thursday, 11 August 2022

The release of the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s Annual Summary Report on Coral Reef Condition for 2021/22 has exposed a major scandal in Australian environmental management – not only has the reef recovered from damage 10 years ago, but it is at record levels.

This should revolutionise how the Great Barrier Reef is managed, end some executive careers, as well as open a new and optimistic chapter in the life of the reef.

For years, the primary economic purpose of the Great Barrier Reef hasn’t been generating tourists for Queensland, but ARC grants for academics and matching Commonwealth Grants for the Queensland government dedicated to ‘saving’ the reef.


Generations of scientists and politicians have guaranteed the federal government that if it doesn’t pay up, the reef will (metaphorically) get it. The reef’s iconic status has been paraded through the outrage press for (what feels like to many) the sole purpose of threatening to extort us.

While the revealed health of the reef is a matter for celebration, it is also a major scandal that the recovery, which underway since around 2012, has not been celebrated by AIMS. Instead, AIMS appear to have kept it oddly quiet. The last time they published aggregated figures for the reef was 2016-17 in the lead-up to the 2019 election when the reef was an issue for voters.

Since then, we have had 5 years of catastrophism, culminating in the most recent threat by Unesco to list the reef as endangered.

And the only reason we now have aggregated figures for the whole reef is because Peter Ridd took the AIMS data and did it for us. Someone has to be held responsible for this dereliction of duty.

Can the reef use this good news to break away from its captors? Perhaps. There are some financial incentives for the federal government to revise its policies on the reef.

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers is looking for savings he can make in this October’s Budget 2.0. There is somewhere around $1 billion he can recover from money that has been promised to save the Great Barrier Reef, because it’s not really needed.


What’s more, by reversing the public relations polarity on the reef, Chalmers should be able to turn it into a profit centre generating tax revenue from tourists coming to see the resurrected reef, and visiting science delegations trying to duplicate the miracle.

This is a graph of Great Barrier Reef coral cover, teased from the AIMS data by Dr Peter Ridd. It shows a steady decline in coral cover from around 25 per cent to 10 per cent in 2012 and then a relatively steady increase to around 35 per cent over the next 10 years. That’s not trivial. 35 per cent is 40 per cent higher than the ‘historical’ maximum in 1986.

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This article was first published in The Spectator.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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