Our Great Barrier Reef is an election issue – Evidence for the obvious

Great Barrier Reef environment health matters to locals and tourists.

Reef coralsEvidence has been presented in a new report for what many of us know,- people care about the Great Barrier Reef and want to see it protected. They are willing to pay for this to happen and we at CAFNEC think they are also likely to vote with the reef in mind..

The study entitled ‘The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA): its ‘value’ to residents and tourists, and the effect of world prices on it’* documents many findings confirming the importance of protecting the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to all of us and North Queenslanders in particular.

The reef is valuable and valued.

The study found that for residents the environmental health of “non-market goods and services provided by the GBR (e.g. having healthy coral reefs, healthy reef fish, clear ocean water, and preserving the reef for future generations)” is more important to people than the jobs and income from industries such as mining, and also more important than the recreational value of activities such as fishing and boating. Tourists also consider the environment to be more important than things like the destination accommodation quality or the price of their trip.

The study found that both residents and tourists were more concerned about the environment being damaged than the (hypothetical) prospect of a 20% increase in prices that potentially affects their hip pocket.

In terms of the money value of the reef, it is estimated that the value of ecosystem services provided by the GBRWHA is between 15 and 20 billion dollars each year! It is worth over 4 billion dollars coming directly into the economy (e.g. tourism and fishing) for residents along the GBR.

These are staggering figures and really puts in perspective just how important protecting our reef really is.

The environment and the economy are linked.

A tourism boat motors through sediment suspended during dredging operations in Cairns.

A tourism boat motors through sediment suspended during dredging operations in Cairns.

The study has drawn the conclusion that environmental degradation such as increased sediment load (muddying of the water) will reduce tourism visitation and have a negative effect on the economy, including on businesses that do not directly rely on the reef environment.

The report also studied the link between broader economic factors and reef health and concludes that “More direct links between the economy and the environment also exist: changes in the broader economy such as increases in the price of beef and/or in wages, affect sediment loads (albeit with a lag). Clearly, the economic system is inextricably linked to the environment, with multiple, dynamic feedbacks.”

But are we willing to pay to protect our future?

The answer is yes, the study found that “residents were willing to pay about $32 per annum per household to help improve water clarity, $27 to reduce the risk of shipping accidents and $29 to protect top predators per household per annum (not yet published). For tourists these figures were $14.5, $15.5 and $9 per person per visit, respectively.”

Who disagrees?

Again there are no real surprises here. The study found that those most likely to value more highly the economic or recreational use of the reef, above environmental health were “males, those with relatively less education, and those whose primary source of income is the mining and manufacturing industry”.

Disturbingly, people born in Queensland were on average less willing to pay to improve environmental values of the reef.

It is also interesting to note that “Being satisfied that the GBR is being preserved for future generations is less important (to overall quality of life) to those in the southern parts of the GBR than to those in the north.”

Have a think about your political representatives and candidates, where most of them live, and where the source of their campaign donations might be…

Wrap up

The report includes the following summaries:

“Multiple lines of evidence suggest that residents of, and visitors to, the Great Barrier Reef Catchment Area feel that environmental non-use values are more important, to their overall quality of life or as a ‘draw-card’ to the region, than recreational or market-based values. As such, developments or changes which degrade those values are likely to be met with some resistance.”

Website Button“Changes in the environment have a real impact on people and on the decisions of people, which affects the broader economy.”

We couldn’t agree more!

Take Action!

If you are like most people you care about the environmental health of the reefand are prepared to put your money where your mouth is. CAFNEC is committed to protecting our fantastic Great Barrier Reef World Heritage but we need your help to continue our important work.

Please consider becoming an EcoStar and supporting our work.


Please stay tuned for updates on election environment policies and events in the lead up to the snap poll on January 31st. Election relevant information will be posted here: http://cafnec.org.au/get-involved/queensland-election-2015-environment-matters-far-north/


*Stoeckl, N., Farr, M., Jarvis, D., Larson, S., Esparon, M., Sakata, H., Chaiechi, T., Lui, H., Brodie, J., Lewis, S., Mustika, P., Adams, V., Chacon, A., Bos, M., Pressey, B., Kubiszewski, I., Costanza, B. (2014). The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area: its ‘value’ to residents and tourists Project 10-2 Socioeconomic systems and reef resilience. Final Report to the National Environmental Research Program. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns (68pp.).


Published by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre on behalf of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP) Tropical Ecosystems (TE) Hub.

Permanent link to this article: http://cafnec.org.au/2015/01/06/great-barrier-reef-is-an-election-issue-evidence-for-the-obvious/