The world’s longest reef is losing its dugongs and nesting sea turtles at a rapid rate, according to the first comprehensive assessment of the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.
Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp released the "2003 State of the Reef Report" last week at a reef conference in Townsville, Queensland.
"The Great Barrier Reef is under mounting pressure," Kemp told delegates. "The numbers of nesting loggerhead turtles have declined between 50 and 80 percent, and dugong populations adjacent to Queensland’s urban coast are estimated to be only three percent to what they were in the 1960s."
The annual flow of sediments and nutrients from land based activities into the reef has increased four-fold since European settlement, according to the report.
In the past few years the reef has suffered two of its worst ever recorded coral bleaching events caused by unusually hot sea water.
"Indeed, this is sobering news but it is not unique to the Great Barrier Reef," Kemp said. "The report states there are similar pressures elsewhere in the world, which has seen a loss of up to 25 percent of the world’s coral reefs."
The Australian government has implemented dugong protection areas in conjunction with the Queensland government to protect dugongs from drowning in fishing nets, said Kemp, and has introduced plans to manage potential conflicts of use and tourism development in high use areas of the reef.
Reef based tourism is estimated to be worth between A$1-2 billion a year and commercial fisheries worth about A$400 million annually.
Kemp said the Australian government is working with the Queensland Fisheries Service to develop a new sustainable line fisheries management plan for the reef and to introduce mandatory use of turtle excluder devices and bycatch reduction devices to stop turtles from dying in trawl nets.
Many parts of the Great Barrier Reef are still in very good condition, but the report warns there is no room for complacency on the part of industry, the community and governments.