Great Barrier Reef: Clearing the way for reef destruction

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Agricultural practices are accelerating the health decline of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, affecting marine and terrestrial ecosystems (see also S. L. Maxwell et al. Nature 536, 143145; 2016). Last month, intensive opposition from the agricultural lobby blocked new legislation by the Queensland government that would have protected the reef's catchment areas from land clearing — despite support for the legislation from almost 500 scientists (

Broadscale land clearing tripled after the state relaxed its vegetation regulations in 2013 (see Subsequent assurances by the state that it would reduce land clearing contributed to last year's decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization not to add the Great Barrier Reef to its 'World Heritage In Danger' list.

The new regulations would have protected the pristine woodlands of Cape York and reduced terrestrial runoff, promoting recovery of those parts of the Great Barrier Reef that have been severely affected by unprecedented coral bleaching.

Preserving what remains of the reef's world-renowned biodiversity depends on urgently forging effective agreements with Queensland's agricultural sector.

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  1. University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

    • April E. Reside
  2. James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

    • Tom C. L. Bridge &
    • Jodie L. Rummer

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