Media Release Fight For Our Reef

Biggest source of land clearing in Reef catchments needs more attention

October 12, 2023
  • About 80% of the land cleared in the Great Barrier Reef catchment was Category-X vegetation that can be legally cleared without approval 
  • Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money spent to reduce sediment run-off into the Reef waters is wasted if current level of clearing continues
  • Clearing must be stopped along watercourses in the Great Barrier Reef catchment
  • World Heritage Committee has given Australia until February to show land clearing is under control

The Queensland Government must do more to address land clearing in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) said after the government released a report by the Native Vegetation Scientific Expert Panel today.

More than 500,000 hectares of land has been cleared in Great Barrier Reef catchments over three years from 2018 to 2021, and those cleared areas will be contributing additional sediment into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. 

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “More than 500,000 hectares of land has been cleared in the Great Barrier Reef catchment in the last three years we have data, and about 80% of that was Category-X vegetation that does not require approval. 

“The expert panel recommends farmer education and incentives to reduce Category-X clearing but these initiatives will not slow clearing quickly enough – they can take a long time and market incentives historically have had a slow uptake. Extra money for compliance is welcome but the clearing laws do not cover Category-X vegetation.

“The Queensland and Australian governments are spending vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to reduce sediment run-off into the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a wasted investment to allow this level of clearing to continue.

“We need stronger land clearing laws that protect vegetation in Queensland and close the loophole of Category-X vegetation. A lot of Category-X vegetation could be reclassified as old-growth vegetation or high-value regrowth, and the vegetation maps need to be updated to reflect that. Category-X vegetation that is not locked into property maps need to be reassessed.

“The Queensland government must stop clearing Category-X vegetation in degraded areas that are highly vulnerable to erosion, and also needs to stop all land clearing along river courses to reduce fine sediment entering the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Riparian zones, which are critical to stopping sediment entering Reef waters, need to be fully protected.

“Tree clearing worsens water pollution, one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef, with sediment smothering the Reef and seagrasses that marine life such as endangered dugongs depend upon. Tree clearing also exacerbates climate change, the biggest threat to our Reef, adding to carbon pollution when trees are burned or left to rot, and removing trees that could suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

“The Queensland and Australian governments have only been given until February by the World Heritage Committee to show that they are properly addressing land clearing to avoid the World Heritage property being given an ‘In Danger’ listing.”