Reef still not protected enough

Tue 16 Feb 

Reef still not protected enough

By Roy Weavers

Tough new farm run-off laws to protect the Great Barrier Reef from pollutants will have little effect in the short term, so goes out the cry from Dr Whiten, an econmist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).


Last October Queensland passed laws to decrease the amount of sediment, nutrients and pesticides entering reef waters by 50 per cent over four years.


Farmers can be hit with fines of up to $30,000 if they don't curtail the run-off of pesticides.


Dr Whitten was presenting new research on reducing pollutants and the economics of adopting new farming practices at the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society's (AARES) annual conference in Adelaide last week.


Entire farming communities have been affected by the changes, and the research is designed to help give economic support and guidance to farmers.


Dr Whitten, from CSIRO, said research was being undertaken to help farmers stay on their feet financially while complying with the tough new laws. "The outcomes fro this research will give confidence to communities that they'll maintain their income while the risk of damage to the reef is minimised."


But he stressed the changes and the impact on the reef would not happen soon. "There's a long way to go on this, it's a complex problem," he said.


"We're talking generational change, but we're trying to make it happen in five or ten years, and then we've got to wait for some of the impacts on the reef to occur."


Different pollutants from many sources cause damage to coral reefs. Once damaged by the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertiliser, it takes sensitive reef organisms a long time to recover.  Some farmers will have to fork out for new equipment to abide by the laws.


Some of the methods to help the environment could also prove financially beneficial, depending on the type of farming.


"We also know it's not a simple picture - not every farmer is the same."


At the time the laws were passed, Canegrowers chairman Alf Cristaudo said farmers were being unfairly persecuted.


"By and large, growers do most of that right now - we are not environmental vandals and we don't want to use more fertilisers or chemicals than we need to," Mr Cristaudo said. "We've been adopting best management practices for some time now."


Dr Whitten also believes that it's not just farmers having an impact on the reef, saying the average householder could also curb fertiliser use and watch what they pour down the drain. "Everyone should think about their day-to-day impact on the reef," he said.


Editors Comments: This last paragrapgh should hit home with all of us.  It certainly is not all the farmers fault, in fact they are usually more eco-aware than most of us.  So if each one of us in the Douglas Region took a good hard look at our own normal homes routines, I bet we would all find something really easy to change that would cut pollution.  If all of us changed just one thing we would have made over 13,000 changes in one single day !  Think about it...Comments please