Media Release Fight For Our Reef

High tree clearing rates still threaten Great Barrier Reef

July 30, 2023
  • New data shows nearly 50% of land cleared in Queensland is in Reef catchments

  • Queensland Govt needs to do more to stop tree clearing in Reef catchments especially as we head into expected El Nino event

  • Tree clearing is big threat to Reef, increasing sediment & pollutants into Reef waters and exacerbating climate change

The Queensland Government must stop tree clearing in Reef catchments if it is to protect the Great Barrier Reef, which will be further stressed by the expected El Nino event, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said after the government today released the land clearing data for the state in 2020-21.

The Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) data shows that hundreds of thousands of hectares of land is being cleared in the state and in the Reef catchments despite the Queensland Government introducing legislation in 2018 to try to rein in clearing.

The SLATS data shows that nearly half (47%) of the 349,399ha of the land cleared in Queensland was in Reef catchments. It shows 164,766ha hectares of land was cleared in Reef catchments in 2020-21, 10% less than the 182,904ha cleared in 2019-20, but full clearing in Reef catchments has actually increased from 143,645ha to 148,507ha. Full clearing is when less than 10% of the tree cover remains.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “It’s positive that there has been some reduction in clearing since the shocking figures released two years ago, but the Queensland Government still needs to do more to control tree clearing in Reef catchments. Nearly half of the tree clearing has occurred in Reef catchments, with full clearing actually increasing.

“Last year’s UNESCO Reactive Monitoring Mission report on the Reef made clear recommendations to the Queensland Government to address clearing in Reef catchments. Addressing those concerns has never been more urgent as we likely head into an El Nino event, which will further stress the Reef with marine heatwaves that can lead to coral bleaching and coral mortality.

“The Queensland Government must stop approving tree clearing in Reef catchments and close the loopholes that allow massive amounts of clearing without any approval.

“Tree clearing causes soil erosion and worsens water pollution, one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Sediment can smother  corals and seagrasses that marine life such as endangered dugongs depend upon. Both the Queensland and federal governments are investing a lot of money in reducing sediment runoff, so it doesn’t make sense to allow this level of clearing to continue.

“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. Global temperature records continue to be broken, with July now the hottest month ever on record. We need to be keeping trees in the ground if we want to truly tackle climate change and protect the Reef’s future.”