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Great Barrier Reef threatened by toxic flood debris: scientists

Monday, Apr 04, 2011 - 02:45

Apr 4 - Environmentalists in Australia are calling for a review of land management practices following Queensland's recent devastating floods which they say, have flushed toxic, pesticide-laden sediment into the Great Barrier Reef. They say there's evidence the reef has already suffered damage and fear it will get worse. Sharon Reich reports.

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From the air, the trail of environmental devastation left by Queensland's record-breaking floods is clear. River banks have been eroded, farmland has been destroyed and the state's all-important mining industry is still struggling to recover. Torrential rains stopped two months ago, but scientists say run-off from grazing areas and flooded mines has swept toxic sludge and sediment into the the swollen Fitzroy River as it makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. Researchers like Michelle Devlin are increasingly concerned that the polluted waters could cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef and muddy the ocean as far as 40 km offshore. Devlin oversees marine monitoring in and around the reef. (SOUNDBITE) (English) WATER QUALITY SCIENTIST FROM JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY, MICHELLE DEVLIN SAYING: "We need to really understand the impact of that amount of fresh water plus combined with the other pollutants that are in the water and as we have said we are starting to see some aspects of bleaching and potentially mortality in those inshore reefs." Bleaching occurs when the tiny plant-like coral organisms die, often because of high temperature and poisoning. Devlin says flood plumes from the overflowing rivers could spread hundreds of kilometres north and cause damage to the coral reefs in the environmentally sensitive Whitsunday Passage. The reef is the world's largest living organism and contributes 5.4 billion dollars to the Australian economy each year. The floods were the worst Australia has experienced in 50 years. They devastated more than 70 towns and affected 200,000 residents. Susie Christiansen of the Fitzroy Management Authority says most of the toxic sludge they produced came partly from water-filled coal mines but mainly, from land used for agriculture. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE FITZROY BASIN ASSOCIATION, SUSIE CHRISTIANSEN SAYING: "Sediment comes off just the massive extent of both grazing and cropping lands and like I said 82 percent grazing. It's coming of hill slopes, its coming off gully erosion and its coming from stream banks. It's not about pointing the finger, its just about the scale." While scientists believe that curbing greenhouse gases which lead to climate change will help in the long-term, Christiansen says a more immediate solution is better land management. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE FITZROY BASIN ASSOCIATION, SUSIE CHRISTIANSEN SAYING: "We don't need to weigh into the debate about is it or isn't it climate change or is going to be worse or is going to be better into the future, if we have a resilient landscape," she said. Experts say the reef could take up to 100 years to recover. Sharon Reich, Reuters.

Great Barrier Reef threatened by toxic flood debris: scientists

Monday, Apr 04, 2011 - 02:45

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