Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
March 29th 2010 print

Walter Starck

Reefgate on the Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has grown into a 45 million dollar a year bureaucracy charged with “managing” the reef. This it does by remote control from air conditioned offices where it oversees the application of hypothetical solutions to imaginary problems.

A new gate opens on the Great Barrier Reef

For the past half century the Great Barrier Reef has sustained a Queensland industry predicated on “saving” the reef from a never ending succession of purported “threats”. All have been declared as dire and of course, they require urgent funding. None have ever become manifest in any serious manner and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in research has never resulted in a solution for any of these non-problems.

The reef today remains a vast area of pristine nature with the majority of its over 2500 individually named reefs seldom fished or even visited by anyone. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority headquartered in Townsville has grown into a 45 million dollar a year bureaucracy charged with “managing” the reef. This it does by remote control from air conditioned offices where it oversees the application of hypothetical solutions to imaginary problems and administers a morass of regulations which have effectively strangled most healthy productive activity on the reef. Starting with no problems and only their own assessment of results, they have declared great success. This has been proclaimed widely through their extensive “educational” activity which serves to promote the Authority and create a high public profile for it.

In 2004 they stumbled badly with a large expansion of no fishing areas (a.k.a. green zones) on the reef. This resulted in a devastating impact on the small but important commercial fishing industry in the region as well as over 300 mandatory criminal convictions for otherwise law abiding recreational fishermen almost all of whom were arrested for inadvertently crossing one of the complex maze of unmarked boundaries. The upshot has been a massive compensation payout for the commercial fishermen, considerable public resentment and replacement of the GBRMPA chairperson.

With a sore need to remove the smudges from their workbook after the green zones debacle plus a juicy prospect for substantial expansion through management of a vast new Marine Protected Area in the Coral Sea, GBRMPA recently produced a glowing report of “extraordinary” benefits from the expanded green zones. To underscore the credibility and importance of their claims the report was published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals rather than as just another of their own numerous publications. However, in doing this they badly overreached.

The report appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. This journal has strict requirements for authors. These include:

  • A requirement that authors declare no conflict of interest; yet, all 21 of them are employed by or are recipients of generous funding from GBRMPA and they are reviewing outcomes of their own findings and recommendations.
  • A requirement that authors must declare sources of funding; yet, this cannot be found in the report.
  • A requirement that all data and materials be made available for independent examination; yet, the supplementary information posted on the PNAS website fails to provide this.
  • A requirement that authors acknowledge and address any conflicting evidence. Not only was this not done in regard to a number of key claims, the conflicting evidence is clear, convincing and, most extraordinary of all, authored by some of the same researchers as those in the report.

This situation has been brought to the attention of PNAS and they have promptly responded that they are looking into it. The appearance of repeated serious breeches of scientific ethics as well as explicit requirements of the journal is incontrovertible. It is difficult to imagine any credible explanation which might indicate otherwise. This is a very big deal and a full explanation by GBRMPA is demanded. Any attempt to pretend otherwise will only compound the seriousness of this matter.

A detailed review of this report is available here…