The Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015 released by the Queensland Government finds that the rate of change needs to accelerate if ambitious targets set out in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan are to be met.
In its 2014 Outlook Report, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Marine Park Authority assessed the prospects for the reef as poor, due to a range of short-term acute and long-term chronic disturbances. The acknowledged most serious threat to its health: climate change.
The targets set in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013, a joint commitment by the Queensland and Australian Governments, were to make the reef more resilient against this challenge.
However, according to the Report Card, progress towards meeting these targets has been poor in many areas.
For example, the plan sets targets for reducing catchment pollutant loads. These include:
The delivery of these targets will require best management practices across farming industries in the GBR catchment areas. According to the plan, by 2018 the management of at least 90% of sugar cane, horticulture, cropping and grazing lands will have to meet this standard.
However, in 2015 only 28% of grazing lands were found to have implemented best management practices, and overall grazing lands in the GBR catchement area were assessed to be of poor status.
The same poor status was ascribed to lands used for sugar cane production, raising concerns that lower standards of management practices will continue to negatively impact on off-farm water quality through pollutants such as nitrogen and pesticides.
Nitrogen contained in fertilisers is linked to outbreaks of coral eating crown-of-thorn starfish, a main cause of declining coral reef cover; sediment restricts the light available to seagrass and coral reefs; and pesticides affect microalgae, corals and seagrass.
The report card shows there has been very poor progress in reducing the annual average dissolved inorganic nitrogen load leaving catchements - it decreased by only 18.1% in the period to June 2015.
Moderate progress has been made towards meeting set sediment and pesticide targets. This includes the estimated average annual sediment load leaving catchments, which reduced by 12.3% by June 2015; and the estimated annual average toxic pesticide load leaving catchments, which reduced by 33.7% by June 2015.
Inshore marine areas were found to be in poor condition, despite slight improvements in the coral quality.
However, the mean ground cover across the Great Barrier Reef region was found to be in a very good state, having exceeded set targets in all regions, except the Burdekin.