Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Having failed to stir interest in the Great Barrier Reef during the recent cliffhanger Australian Federal Election, reef scientists are now demanding that the government must choose which parts of the Great Barrier Reef they want to save.
Great Barrier Reef: government must choose which parts to save, says expert
Professor Hugh Possingham says authorities must confront prospect that some parts of reef are doomed and focus on what to preserve.
Governments must decide which parts of the Great Barrier Reef they most want to save and confront the prospect that some of it may be doomed, an expert on conservation modelling has warned.
University of Queensland professor Hugh Possingham said agencies, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, needed to make tough decisions about which parts of the natural wonder are most worth preserving “rather than trying to save everything”.
Possingham said the looming “triple whammy” of global warming’s impact on the reef – warmer seas, more acidity and more cyclones – meant time was running out and “triage” priorities were needed.
“We should be identifying the most resilient places – the ones most likely to be able to deal with all these assaults from outside and focusing our attention on them rather than trying to save everything,” he said.
“We need to focus on the bits we can definitely save.”
Possingham, a former Rhodes scholar who is described by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute as “the global leader in mathematical modelling and decision science for nature conservation”, conceded it could be “suicide” for politicians to talk of abandoning some parts of the reef over others.
Possingham said while he welcomed the presence of climate sceptics, it would be “catastrophic” to delay action until the full consequences of how global climate change will play out and coral reefs would evolve were known.
“The person who creates the burden of proof has always got the upper hand because it’s almost impossible to prove anything entirely when we’re talking about large landscapes and seascapes over long periods of time,” he said.
Given Coral originated 540 million years ago, has survived numerous catastrophic extinction events such as the Permian-Triassic Extinction, which killed around 96% of all marine species, and has effortlessly survived hundreds of millions of years of abrupt natural changes in global temperature, I would suggest the burden of proof is on marine scientists to demonstrate why a few degrees gentle anthropogenic warming is such a threat, even if that warming actually occurs.