Coral reefs are arguably the most important marine ecosystem, as they host an astonishing 33% of all fish species. In the past century, global reefs have receded drastically due to human interference. The Great Barrier Reef, off the Eastern coast of Australia, is one of the world’s seven natural wonders and largest coral reef. Some predict that the wonder will disappear in approximately 20 years with the current rate of deterioration. If it were to be destroyed, 1500 species of fish, 350 species of hard coral, and over 54% of the world’s mangrove diversity would go extinct. This would be an unprecedented environmental disaster and the lack of biodiversity would have massive ramifications on the ocean ecosystems around the world. What is even more troubling is that the Australian government could bring about its demise even sooner and even seems to entice it.
Some Conservatives, argue that the imminent destruction of the Reef makes it acceptable to sacrifice it immediately for economic benefit. Off-shore drilling accounts for 85% of the Australian petroleum supply, making a key economic resource. This month, Origin, a partner of the Australia Pacific LNG, has set aside $800 million to expand off-shore drilling in the northwest, an already heavily exploited site. While this does not directly affect the Great Barrier Reef, there is the potential for massive harm with even a minor oil spill, given its proximity to the Reef. There are records of damage due to minor oil spills in the area surrounding the Reef, providing evidence that off-shore drilling is indeed a threat to the reef’s well-being.
The current prime minister, Tony Abbott of center-right, is probably the biggest threat to the Reef with the policies he has been seeking to push through parliament. Abbott, in conjunction with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, has approved construction of a coal port on the coast next to the Reef. This will allow the dumping of soil, potentially toxic, into the Reef and promote the use of coal. If poisoning the ecosystem wasn’t enough, Abbott already approved the extermination of certain shark species in Australia’s ocean territory, which includes endangered Great White Sharks. This will have serious food chain ramifications as the top predators will not be able to control preceding food chain species.
On a broader environmental scale, Abbott has already abolished the Climate Commission, responsible for informing the public with reliable information regarding global climate change. Abbott has also successfully removed global climate change discussion from the G20 2014 agenda. In terms of future plans, the prime minister has many environmentally devastating ideas. He plans to allow deforestation in select National preserves, to repeal taxes imposed on carbon emissions and mining, and reduce the Renewable Energy Agency budget by almost $1 billion. While there is a façade of Australia’s government being a democracy, as Abbott’s unilateral position on these environmental policies is more similar to a constitutional monarchy.
Progressive ideology in an efficient democracy has continued to show the most promise concerning environmental preservation. With Abbott’s current power, conservation efforts within the Marine Park, no matter how successful they have been, would be all for nothing. The battle between economic growth and environmental policy is one that exists in multiple countries around the world, including the United States. When offshore drilling and environmental policy is implemented correctly, environmental effects can be mitigated. However, the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills should be evidence enough that oceanic preservation requires more attention than it is receiving. When mechanical and human errors occur, disastrous environmental effects are seen and with the current state of things, the Reef’s destruction is a foregone conclusion.