Gunn: Strategic assessment “downplayed” bad news for reef

THE Great Barrier Reef strategic assessment has "downplayed" the bad news for the reef, the nation's chief independent marine science body has told a Senate inquiry.

Officials with the Australian Institute of Marine Science told the Senate committee examining the reef's management of its concerns during a hearing in Townsville on Wednesday.

In his submission to the inquiry, AIMS chief executive John Gunn also wrote that there was no guarantee of independence on scientific work completed by developers.

The issue Mr Gunn highlighted has been brought into sharp relief over the controversial approvals of dredging projects at Abbot Point and Gladstone in recent years.

He wrote that while it would be ideal for the marine park authority to commission all needed scientific work, it did not happen in reality.

Mr Gunn wrote that when specific information on permit approvals and decision was needed, in most cases the requirement was given to proponents to complete, rather than completed independently.

"There is a clear potential for conflicts of interest since the oversight and quality control of the work is carried out by the developer, whose interests in controlling development costs could conflict with the Authority's interests in minimising environmental and social impacts," he wrote.

Mr Gunn wrote that a better mechanism that could maintain independence of data would be to have it completed independently, but developers forced to pay costs.

The submission also highlighted weaknesses in the strategic assessment of the reef, due to be released in coming weeks.

Mr Gunn wrote that while the review of "existing information" was comprehensive, the depth of coverage of the issues affecting the reef was "variable".

"Almost all of the "bad news" regarding status and trend is contained somewhere within the chapters of the document, however the summaries of chapters tend to either downplay or leave the bad news until the end of the sections," it reads.

"For example, the statement that "at the scale of the GBR region, most of its habitats and species are assessed to be in good to very good condition." may be technically correct, but as most of Great Barrier Reef its KEY habitats and vulnerable species (corals, seagrasses, seabirds, dolphins, dugong, turtles) are in very poor to poor condition and declining in the southern GBR, it would seem appropriate to lead with this point."

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