SOAP BOX: Great Barrier Reef’s long history of abuse

IT'S been more than 15 years since I last went diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

At that stage the reef, compared to today at least, was bright and healthy. I spent four days on a boat diving on different parts of the reef near Cairns and the things I saw - from the bright coral to the swarming sea life - remains the most beautiful thing I have ever seen or, for that matter, expect to see.

Now it seems increasingly likely my children will never have the chance to see the reef as I saw it. However, even then the old-timers were talking about how much the reef had lost over their lifetime.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has said the number of corals on the reef halved between 1985 and 2009 - well before the crisis now gripping this environmental treasure.

However, the reef has been on a downward spiral for much longer than that.

The director of the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, has told the ABC we've been damaging the reef since the 1830s, with runoff from farms burying corals and increasing sediment and nutrients in the waters of the reef.

That damage continued then increased with the introduction of fertilisers after the Second World War.

Since then we've mined the reef for limestone, we've explored for gas oil and now we're planning to build a massive port for coal ships.

Australians love the reef but we've treated it so poorly it's little wonder it now appears to be dying.

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