Mr ENTSCH: Recently, in my capacity as Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, I presented my first report to the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley.
I must say that it has been a privilege to be in a position where I can provide input into the direction of government policy regarding the Great Barrier Reef.
Firstly, let me touch briefly on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is a vibrant, beautiful ecosystem of immense value to Australians and the world, but there is no doubt that it’s under pressure from growing threats.
There is an array of very complex challenges facing the reef, and we must confront these head-on.
There is no question that climate change looms as the most serious existential threat to the long-term health and viability of the reef.
Greater efforts to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases are required globally.
The localised threats that are more within our direct control are being managed reasonably well.
While many criticise the work of the government in this space, we must remember that our investments, combined with the work of our agencies and our partners, are making a substantial and real difference on the ground.
Make no mistake about it: we are the best reef managers in the world.
Globally, we are acknowledged as such.
As a nation, it is something that we should be very, very proud of.
In saying that, I am the first to admit that the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but they’re not insurmountable.
Through the continued work of our environmental agencies, and ongoing research and investments, I believe Australia is up to the task of meeting these challenges head-on.
As most people would be aware, the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 downgraded the long-term outlook for the reef’s ecosystem from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’.
However, it is important to remember that this is an outlook report and that there are many recommendations and actions contained within it that offer us a pathway to rectify these issues.
In the eight months I’ve spent in my role, I’ve had many in-depth discussions with various stakeholders, who are all passionate about ensuring the reef’s long-term sustainability.
People I’ve spoken to are highly experienced and knowledgeable and, as such, understand the reef’s many complexities.
They have all been of tremendous value and support.
It was during a meeting with Professor Catherine Lovelock from the University of Queensland that I first learnt about the unique benefits of blue carbon.
In a nutshell, blue carbon is the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems.
These ecosystems sequester and store large quantities of blue carbon in both the plants and sediment below.
In fact, mangroves are three to four times more efficient in sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere than terrestrial forests.
Blue carbon as a process is not just about mangroves; it includes saltmarshes and seagrasses.
The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 stated that mangrove forests are a critically important habitat and breeding ground for many different species and are of immense value to ecosystems that help support the health of the reef.
It went on to state that the mangrove forests also provide important ecosystem services, including coastal protection, pollution absorption, nutrient cycling, primary production and carbon storage.
Globally, most mangrove loss is caused through coastal development.
Weather-related events can also have a significant impact, particularly cyclones, extreme sea level variations and heatwaves.
The clearing of mangroves occurred widely as a result of coastal development—and the legacy still exists—however, clearing is now strictly regulated.
Research has shown that when denigrated or destroyed these ecosystems emit the carbon they have stored for centuries into the atmosphere, and the oceans become sources of greenhouse gases.
Last year, in world-first research, Edith Cowan University researchers and an international team of collaborators accurately quantified the amount of greenhouse gases or blue carbon being emitted into the Australian ecosystem.
It is important that we continue to focus on these areas.
I think there is a great opportunity for us, particularly in investing more and more into blue carbon.
We’ve got to stop using the reef to score political points, and we’ve got to stop talking down the reef.
We need to work together—very much so—as proud Australians to ensure that we are doing all that we can to ensure that our reef remains the greatest natural wonder on this planet.