Scientists frustrated about the Great Barrier Reef

A TOP Queensland water quality scientist has questioned the ability of the Great Barrier Reef strategic assessment to protect the reef, while a second has criticised "scaremongering" over dredging near the reef.

The two scientists have entered the debate fed up with the to-ing and fro-ing between the resources industry and environmentalists, in a bid to raise their concerns.

James Cook University water quality scientist Jon Brodie wrote a scathing invited editorial in the Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science journal, hitting out state and federal governments "refusing their responsibilities to protect the reef".

Prof Brodie said the current strategic assessments by both governments were "very vague and weak, saying that many scientists had now written directly to UNESCO outlining their concerns.

"So of the three big threats to the GBR - climate change, agricultural pollution and coastal development pollution/degradation - only agricultural pollution is being managed to some extent based on good science," he wrote.

"My greatest concern is that ports are being allowed to pass off their responsibility to manage damage to the GBR from sediment pollution to farmers for relatively small amounts of funding."

Prof Brodie said there also needed to be independent analysis of dredging and port developments, "absolutely separate from the developers' consultants".

"If the consultants don't get the 'right' answer, no more work in the future," he said.

"In addition the consultant's reports are not independently reviewed and then finally they are assessed by non-experts in the Department of the Environment."

His criticisms came as Central Queensland University scientist Dr Alison Jones, who has spent years researching the corals of the reef, hit out at scare-mongering by environmental groups blaming dredging as a key cause of decline.

She, with co-author Brett Kettle, wrote an article on The Conversation website last Friday, highlighting their frustration that attention was diverted to dredging, rather than other threats such as climate change, crown of thorns starfish and coral bleaching.

"The most critical problem at the moment is that we all have our heads turned sideways, looking at dredging, when we should all be pulling these various pieces of research together in a synthesis that results in the next 10 years of sound public policy," Dr Jones said.

"But the other disappointment is that campaigners are tapping into donations from the public, to be spent on legal fees etc, on the premise that its dredging that is the problem.

"That money would be so much better spent on issues that really do have the potential to provide a better outcome for the reef in the next decade or two."

While they raised different issues, both were concerned at a lack of science to support actions to ensure the future management of the reef and guide future policies.

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