Balancing economic development with environmental concerns

Posted 7 March 2016

Democracies are characterised by their empowerment of individuals and the compromise between different perspectives. As such, one of the hardest challenges for those in government legal jobs is balancing multiple points view when writing legislation. 

One recent example of this is the challenges to the long-term sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef and the impact the Reef 2050 Plan will have. 

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marian Park Authority, there has been a rising volume of reports that show low-level bleaching of the reef's coral population. Bleaching is the process where coral is stripped of its essential colour-producing algae and begins to starve, turning white and transparent in the process. 

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said that February and March tend to have the highest risk for coral bleaching.

"Bleaching is a clear signal that living corals are under physiological stress. If that stress is bad enough for long enough, the corals can die. Corals generally have a temperature limit, and the bleaching indicates they're outside of their comfort zone," Dr Reichelt said

While bleaching is mainly caused by rising sea temperatures caused by climate change, pollutant run-off is also a major contributor. Increasing levels of sediment and containment runoff is reducing the clarity of the water and therefore limiting the amount of light that the coral receives. 

In response, the Australian government is developing a comprehensive plan for the management and protection of the reef, called The Reef 2050 Plan. The aim of which is to secure the natural feature for future Australian generations and is based on the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Yet, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef is more than an environmental concern, it can also have a major impact on Australia's economy. 

Tourism is a massive industry in Australia. According to Tourism Research Australia, there were nearly 7 million international visitors to Australian shores in 2015, which is a 8 per cent increase over the year before. Additionally, visitors spent a combined total of $36.6 billion dollars across 248 million nights. 

Yet, overdevelopment of coastal regions that run parallel to the reef can have a major effect on the level of contamination that flows into it.

With the reef's long-term sustainability in the air, the Australian economy may be unable to rely on it in the future. Those in Australian legal jobs will need to consider the viewpoints of industry in their quest for development and growth, while taking into account the economic value of a healthy, thriving reef.