Many of Australia’s most precious natural assets are located in Queensland. These include a wide range of commodity resources as well as the iconic Great Barrier Reef (GBR), which is one of the world’s most important biodiversity assets.
Major economic activities such as mining, agriculture, shipping, fishing, urban development, tourism and recreation converge at the Queensland coast and their cumulative impacts are major drivers of ecosystem status and trend. The legacy of past development and population growth is coastal and marine areas with degraded water quality, and losses of habitat and biodiversity. The rapid pace of projected development will produce ever greater cumulative risks over the next decade, requiring nimble adaptive management and evidence-based decisions.
Great Barrier Reef
The GBR is the World’s largest reef archipelago stretching >2,000 km from Cape York to Lady Elliot Island, which lies just 80 km north of the northern tip of Fraser Island. Today, the GBR is a multiple-use marine park generating more than $5 billion of annual economic activity and supporting around 70,000 jobs (GBR Outlook Report 2009). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) is also a World Heritage Area recognised internationally for its Outstanding Universal Value, which is today being threatened by the cumulative impacts of multiple human uses and ongoing climate change.
In 2012, UNESCO sent a reactive mission to Australia to enquire into a proposition that the GBR be placed on a register of endangered World Heritage properties following international concern about the scale and pace of coastal development; particularly the expansion of infrastructure at bulk commodity ports to cope with a mining and energy boom.
In 2013, the Queensland Government released a Queensland Ports Strategy proposing to restrict any significant port development adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area to within existing port limits until 2022. In addition, the Australian and Queensland Governments prepared comprehensive Strategic Assessments for the marine and coastal environments (GBRMPA 2013a, QDSDIP 2013) and complementary Program Reports (GBRMPA 2013b) describing remedial actions to be taken in the next decade. Both Program Reports commit to a future reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting program to underpin an adaptive management approach for this very large ecosystem. An effective integrated monitoring framework must include a layer of ocean observations.
South East Queensland
South East Queensland (SEQ) is an area of outstanding natural values with its own legacy of environmental issues; largely driven by very rapid expansion to accommodate the majority of the State’s population in this region. The Gold Coast is Australia’s most highly concentrated tourist destination and contributes more than $4B annually to the economy.
Commercial fisheries in the region are worth more than $50M annually, and the recreational fishing sector in the greater Brisbane area generates many times more value.
Marine environments of the region include the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Moreton Bay and Great Sandy Marine Parks. The iconic sand islands (Fraser, Moreton and Stradbroke) are precious natural assets. Beach erosion is a significant threat to infrastructure because so much of the coast is sandy and this is in most parts an open coast facing an energetic ocean. The outstanding biodiversity values of SEQ include globally significant populations of sea turtles and dugongs, and annual shorebird migrations that have led to Moreton Bay being listed as an international RAMSAR site.
Torres Strait and Gulf of Carpentaria
The Torres Strait is a narrow waterway between Australia and Papua New Guinea that separates the Coral Sea in the east from the Arafura Sea in the west via the Gulf of Carpentaria. This shallow strait contains almost 300 islands, of which 17 have permanent settlements supporting around 7,000 people. These islands have been occupied for several thousand years by indigenous peoples who have a deep attachment to place and strong cultural and economic dependency upon local marine resources.
This region contains the largest population of dugongs in the world and is the final global refuge for these charismatic herbivores as their populations have declined elsewhere. It also contains the largest contiguous seagrass meadow in tropical Australia, which would be at risk from changes in water quality. These risks of coastal pollution will interact with anthropogenic climate change. Torres Strait populations on low-lying islands have critical vested interest in sea-level rise because they already experience episodic tidal inundation of their lands and are at great risk from storm surge.
The Gulf of Carpentaria (GOC) is a large shallow sea west of the Torres Strait that is bounded by land on three sides and the Arafura Sea to the west. It covers 300,000 km2 with a maximum depth of 70m. The region contains <1% of Queensland’s population, but is a popular destination for recreational fishers and ‘Grey Nomads’ in the dry season, as well as supporting profitable commercial fisheries (prawns, crabs, fish) with a gross value exceeding $90M in 2011. Most of this production depends on coastal and estuarine ecosystems, with trophic linkages to mangroves and seagrasses.