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Author: AAP
Date: 11 July, 2013

The Great Barrier Reef is in serious decline, with the latest government report card finding overall the reef went from moderate to poor in 2010/11.

The diagnosis for the Great Barrier Reef keeps getting worse.

Scientists warn fertiliser run-off continues to seriously threaten water quality in the iconic ecosystem off Australia’s far north east.

After narrowly avoiding a spot on UNESCO’s “in danger” list last month, the overall health of world’s largest coral reef system has dropped from moderate to poor, according to the federal government’s latest report card.

The long-awaited 2011 report was released on Wednesday, along with a comprehensive Reef Plan designed by the Queensland and federal governments to tackle pollution from land runoff.

While some gains have been made with farmers trying to reduce the amount of fertiliser flowing from their land into the ecosystem, the verdict wasn’t generally positive.

The annual average total nitrogen run off onto the reef reduced by seven per cent between 2009 and 2011 and pesticides by 15 per cent – a far cry from the target of 50 per cent by 2013.

Scientists say nearly three-quarters of all the hard coral along the reef had been lost since the 1960s, with extreme weather events like Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods wreaking havoc.

But fertiliser continues to pose a huge risk to water quality, with nitrogen discharge associated with outbreaks of devastating Crown of Thorn starfish.

Conservationists say it’s not all bad news, and have praised those “heroes” on the land who have adopted groundbreaking techniques for cutting back on fertiliser use.

Environment Minister Mark Butler and the Queensland government is being urged to increase funding for these agricultural custodians beyond the $375 million in joint-government cash already committed.

“It’s worth a bigger and deeper investment to help these farmers become more profitable and help the reef recover it’s coral,” the World Wildlife Fund’s Nick Heath told AAP on Wednesday.

“I think we’ve got to recognise that they are trying, I don’t think they’re complacent about it.”

AgForce said the industry was keen to show farmers were great environmental stewards, and they wanted to show that to scientists and the community.

Queensland’s cane industry said the fact 34 per cent of sugarcane growers had reduced pollution runoff was a testament to the “sheer amount of environmental work” by farmers in the past two years.

Mr Butler said the score card also showed 17 per cent of graziers and 25 per cent of horticulture producers had improved management practices, but conceded there was still much work to be done.

Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters said the government was focusing on a “small success story” while ignoring the bigger threat posed by mining companies dredging along the coast to build coal and gas ports.

“Unfortunately the mining industry is still getting the red carpet rolled out,” Senator Waters told AAP.

Mr Butler on Tuesday delayed an approval decision on the Abbot Point Coal Terminal in north Queensland, which environmentalists say will dump three million tonnes of sediment right on the reef.

UNESCO will decide by June next year whether to list the reef as a World Heritage site in danger, something the Australian Marine Conservation Society says authorities aren’t doing enough to prevent.