By Dr Selina Ward
Coral reef scientist & board member AMCS
AgForce suggests that we should have an independent Office of Scientific Review to check the science that has gone into the assessment of water quality on the Great Barrier Reef and towards the Reef water regulations recently endorsed by the senate inquiry.
They call in to question reef science in general and suggest that the science around water quality has not been adequately reviewed. This is clearly incorrect. The hundreds of publications on the science of the GBR come from Australian and international experts from a large number of universities and institutions. These works have been published in very high impact (prestigious) journals such as Science and Nature where the work is reviewed by editors and then experts in the field and these will be the leading scientists in these fields in the world.
Just in case journals like Science and Nature get it wrong, GBR science has an extraordinary amount of additional review in Queensland. Every four to five years a detailed Consensus Statement is created. In this process, a panel of experts get together to go over all the recent work and develop the consensus statement after much review and discussion. As well as this, there is a state government lead process called the Independent Science Panel that assesses all the data and recent work on water quality. At a federal level, there is the Independent Expert Panel run by the former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb. This covers all GBR work rather than just water quality.
So there are many layers of review and assessment and collaboration already on top of the peer review undertaken by the journals for the published work. What can AgForce possibly hope to achieve by suggesting setting up yet another review, except to try to create a false impression of a problem?
AgForce acknowledges that climate change is a huge problem for the Great Barrier Reef. It is crucial that we don’t lose corals and other vital GBR elements to factors outside of climate change, such as poor water quality with high sediment and nutrient loads. There is scientific consensus that agricultural runoff damages inshore ecosystems like corals and seagrass meadows, habitat of threatened species like turtles and dugongs. Last year the Federal and Queensland government released a Report Card on Reef water quality which gave the inshore Reef a ‘D’ score for overall condition. We need these reef water regulations to turn this around. We must do all we can to try to protect this irreplaceable treasure.
A version of this letter was run in several newspaper websites in Queensland, including the Daily Mercury and the Whitsunday Times.