Australia’s newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t think the World Heritage Area needs saving. Warren Entsch, a Queensland MP for the Liberal National Party, has dismissed the notion that the reef is currently facing a serious existential threat or that coral bleaching has worsened in recent years.
"We don't need to 'save the reef',” he told SBS. “The reef is functioning well. There are lots of challenges. We need to continue to manage it and meet all those challenges… [but] bleaching has been happening forever."
Entsh, who has represented the far north Queensland seat of Leichhardt—on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef—for a total of 12 years, has been the target of climate change activists for some time. He refers to them as the “the anti-fossil fuel brigade”, according to The Guardian. And while he’s hardly a climate change denialist, his failure to name it as the single biggest threat to the reef has raised concern among some of the world’s top marine scientists.
Indeed, the MP’s economic interests may give some insight into why he’d want to downplay the seriousness of the threat. Last year, Entsh described the Adani-Carmichael coalmine—a massively controversial development proposal that’s been criticised for the danger it poses to the surrounding environment, including the reef—as a “win-win-win” for people in Queensland’s far north, according to Newsport.
“The state government made the decision to approve the mine and, at [the] end of the day, irrespective of the numbers protestors put up, there will be significant jobs available from this project,” Entsch said.
He’s also not too fazed by the student climate protesters who frequently target his electorate office, apparently—or the “teachers, academics at university, and activists” who he accuses of "indoctrinating" them by advocating for stronger action on climate change.
"They're frightening the living hell out of kids,” he said. “These kids were well and truly brainwashed… that was disturbing to me. It's like child abuse and I think they should be held accountable."
Of perhaps more immediate concern, however, is the fact that the damage caused to the Great Barrier Reef may have completely compromised the corals’ ability to recover, according to a study published by coral reef scientist Professor Terry Hughes last month. Hughes states that “following unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching events caused by global warming” in 2016 and 2017, the amount of coral larvae that survived into adulthood “declined in 2018 by 89 percent compared to historical levels.”
"There's only one way to fix this problem,” the paper declares, “and that’s to tackle the root cause of global heating by reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero as quickly as possible".
But while “saving the reef” isn’t exactly at the top of Entsch’s agenda, he has vowed to legislate a national approach to reducing single-use plastics and tackling the problem of plastic pollution in Australia’s oceans. Entsch hopes to eventually phase out single-use plastics altogether and replace them with environmentally-friendly alternatives—and he’s made it the primary goal of his time as Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef.
“I’m committed in my last term in government to develop a national policy on plastics, micro and nano plastics, to remove them from our beaches,” he said.
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