Queensland government chooses reef over beef in landmark purchase

The Queensland government have made a huge purchase but it's not a wasteful one. In fact it's the opposite. On Wednesday the ABC reported that the Queensland government have spent 7 million dollars to purchase a cattle farm property that was contributing to 40% of sediment running from the Normanby river and straight into The Great Barrier Reef, effectively being a major cause of the worst case of coral bleaching we've ever seen.

The property, called Springvale, was channelling 500,000 tonnes of sediment into the reef every year and had been pinpointed as the biggest source of pollution in what was an otherwise pristine catchment.

The decision to purchase Springvale has been hailed as unprecedented by The World Wildlife fund's Nick Heath. In talking to the ABC Heath stated: 'Never before has a government bought land to protect the water quality of The Great Barrier Reef'.

The government plans to begin remediation work on the property with the aid of conservation groups with the main goal being to replant key zones on the properties edges in order to reduce gully erosion and slow down sediment from reaching the reef and in turn contributing to the bleaching epidemic.

Read more: The Great Barrier Reef: Australia's National Treasure

‘Never before has a government bought land to protect the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef’.
- Nick Heath - The World Wildlife fund

Springvale was formally home to 4300 Brahman-cross cattle, which from an environmental perspective is a huge step in the right direction, as not only do cattle farms such as Springvale cause sediment due to cattle grazing on the land which reduces land cover creating loose soil that then travels through rivers to the reef and contributes to bleaching but they also contribute to 51% of global green house gas emissions.

The decision to choose conservation of the reef over agriculture could set a precedent for the future of Australian politics when it comes to environmental decisions and comes as a positive change in tune after last month when it was reported that the Australian government requested that every reference to The Great Barrier Reef be scrubbed from the United Nations report on climate change.

Will Steffen, who was one of the scientific reviewers of the section about the reef likened the governments decision as reminiscent of "The old soviet union" when he spoke with The Guardian Australia.

According to a spokesperson for the environment department the decision was made because "Recent experience in Australia had shown negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism"

The decision to leave the reef out of the report was widely reported as a tactic to sweep the problem of bleaching under the carpet, a huge blow to the conservation efforts over the past 15 years that have gone into protecting the reef.

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The decision to purchase Springvale was part of the Queensland government's 'Reef 2050 plan', the plan, described as 'A key component of the Australian Government's response to the recommendations of the UNESCO world heritage committee' that aims to 'ensure The Great Barrier Reef continues to improve on its Outstanding Universal Value every decade between now and 2050 to be a natural wonder for each successive generation to come."

And while the wording of the report strongly echo's the governments concerns for tourism rather than understanding of the global importance of the reef as the worlds largest and most complex reef ecosystems, and home to 600 types of coral and around 5000 different sea creatures, it was the driving force behind the acquisition of Springvale.

Read more: Ellen Degeneres joins the fight for the reef

Nicholas Graham a coral researcher from James Cook University has stated that unsurprisingly, cutting down on the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution can boost the resiliency of the reefs, as can cutting back on fishing. Graham stated that "Reducing local impacts as much as possible will give them the best chance of survival, However managing the impacts to reefs is really about understanding and managing human actions"

With that same idea of managing human actions in mind, as exciting as it is that the Queensland government has purchased Springvale in order to aid the conservation of the reef, we need to look at the bigger picture. The purchase of Springvale is a step in the right direction however we must not forget that just over a month ago the Queensland government approved a 21billion dollar coal mine in the Galilee basin, a move that renders the purchase of Springvale as a complete waste of time. Our reef is in danger and it needs to be declared as such. The purchasing of land, while a positive step, is a bandaid solution from a government who take one step forward and two steps back.

Until we stop approving coal mining, we have no chance at saving the largest and most beautiful reef eco-system in the world, and once it's destroyed, we won't be able to get it back.

Read this next: This woman spent 20 years turning degraded farm land into a beautiful rainforest

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