Minister responds to letter from reef scientists, senate inquiry

Australia’s environment minister will consider the findings of a recent senate inquiry into the Great Southern Reef alongside a letter signed by 12 marine scientists calling for a national monitoring program for the region.

The 8000km Great Southern Reef (GSR) extends along the Australian mainland’s southern coastline and around Tasmania. These interconnected rocky reefs are home to thousands of seaweed and sponge species, as well as unique molluscs, fish, crustaceans and echinoderms.

The GSR provides vital habitat and ecological benefits, is an economic driver for tourism and associated industries in coastal communities, and is a vital carbon sink thanks to the swathes of kelp and seagrasses lining the coast.

But scientists are increasingly concerned by the environmental pressures building on the reef. One of these is the sting of marine heatwaves, one of which was recently detected by studies off the continent’s east coast. Several of the signatories recently voiced their concerns to Cosmos. They requested the federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen to provide $40m over 10 years to support a national monitoring program.

The Environment Minister’s office told Cosmos the request is being considered alongside the recently released report from the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications into marine invasive species.

That inquiry took particular interest in the spread of Long-spined sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) or ‘Centro’ in Tasmanian waters. C. rodgersii is endemic to New South Wales but warming oceans have allowed it to expand its range south.

The committee recommended cross-government efforts to “capture and harness” an emerging fishing industry targeting the species;  invest in measures to control the species;  extend the life of the Centro Task Force and create an advisory group with input for industry, researchers, the dive sector and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

The Minister said in response to an approach for comment: “I share the concern of our scientists about the impacts of climate change on our precious marine environments. The Government will consider the letter alongside the senate inquiry recommendations on the Great Southern Reef.”

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