Fossil-fuel-promoting ‘criminals’ are killing the Reef

reefBy Mary Gardner

In the calm of 29 March, the three of us met at the beach in Byron Bay. As we soaked in the sea at low tide, we talked about preparing our houses and farms for the rainfall expected from the tail end of Cyclone Debbie.

I thought about the snorkel I did at high tide in the morning. In 27ºC waters, still murky with the town’s storm-water, blooming with algae, what action is taken by the dolphins, turtles, fish and jellyfish?

The heat seeking leopard sharks are still in the Bay, but what happens to sedentary seaweeds and corals? How are things here like the Great Barrier Reef?

I check the Coral Reef Watch website. One page collates reports from every station around the world. February’s bleaching alert level 1 for Moreton Bay has finally eased to a warning as has the South Coral Sea. But the North Coral Sea and the Far North of the Reef are at bleaching alert level 1.

This makes two years of bleaching events across the reef and in nearby regions. Water temperatures from 27-30°C. Cyclone Debbie across thousands of kilometres, connecting our region’s weather and climate with the Reef. We all share that tropical stress.

There is also political stress. The work of Judith Wright and her colleagues was not only in the poetry and history books of our libraries but in the ongoing protection of the Reef.

All of the 2,900 separate islands and reefs, the coast from Bundaberg to Papua New Guinea, the entire 350,000 square kilometres. World Heritage status was hard-won.

On 16 March, the science journal Nature published a paper by biologist Terry Hughes and forty co-authors who analysed the patterns of global warming and recurrent coral bleaching.

No other factor is hitting the Reef as hard as global warming. Bleaching happens whether waters are clear or murky, whatever the fishing pressures, however adaptable are the different corals in every area. Bleaching occurs where sea temperatures increase. Deliberately expanding fossil fuel industries only exacerbates global warming.

Now, the next generation of political action is underway. To halt the expansion of fossil fuel industries on the coast of the Reef, Bob Brown and others support the Galilee Blockade. This movement is even more geographically spread than the Reef itself.

People throughout Australia are taking many kinds of actions about the companies Adani, Downer and Aurizon. They are also protesting the role of Queensland Labor, granting the businesses critical infrastructure status and exempting them from water legislation.

Another action is Victory Australia. This legal campaign on the global stage is led by Miriam Clements, director of Sustainable Quality Purpose Agency.

In 2016, the International Criminal Court announced they will now prosecute crimes of Environmental Destruction. Clements explains the court may do so to ‘prevent escalation of climate change by enforcing individual criminal responsibility for contamination of ecosystems necessary for human survival.’

Individuals in government and business can be investigated and wealth gained as a consequence of crime can be seized by the court to finance reparations. Check out the website

Clements and her team are urgently seeking funds to cover costs. They are making the case that in promoting fossil fuel industries and strengthening climate warming impacts on the Reef, key political and business people are committing a crime against humanity. The submission is to be submitted by the end of June 2017. Read the case at SQP Agency website.

Along East Australia and on other shores around the world, marine life is already migrating to new zones. They reach coasts where extractive industries have already destroyed 80-99 per cent of existing wild oyster reefs. This vital habitat and source of food is missing. Many of our ongoing problems with pollution, water quality and human food security and social justice are also linked with this first underwater catastrophe. How do we stop our collective self from repeating such history with coral reefs?

The answer to this urgent question is a work in progress, with non-violent campaigns like the two mentioned above. Ones that you can join, giving of your money and time. Judith Wright wrote ‘We’ve brought on our own cancers, one with the world.’ In the world’s cure, we may heal some part of our own selves.

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