A Brisbane company proposes it has developed a system that could save the Great Barrier Reef, if only it could get through all the red tape.
Water4Use CEO Allan Lear says recent reports to save the reef, including the government’s proposal announced last week, may be skipping over a fundamental solution.
In summary, these reports have detailed the stressors that need to be reduced for the reef to recover.
There is a lot at risk: Australia’s biodiversity, a prized tourism destination that is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a shakeup in the Great Barrier Reef’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.
UNESCO, a specialised agency of the United Nations which looks after education, science and culture, is urging for a sound conservation proposal to be implemented soon or it will cast the Great Barrier Reef alongside Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq as an ‘in danger’ World Heritage property.
The decision is set to be made by UNESCO June this year.
The federal government’s plan to reverse the decline of the Great Barrier Reef had been branded as “weak” by industry and requiring greater action in key areas.
Industry responded with a set of recommendations compiled by a few of the reef’s most experienced scientists and published in Natural Climate Change. The crux was to put an end to dredging, dumping and developing large new coalmines, as well as actively transition away from fossil fuels and towards better conservation values as a nation.
Lear isn’t directly in harm’s way if a coalmine ban were to go through.
Water4Use operates in the coal seam gas domain, and is also diversified into many other businesses.
However, Lear is still advocating to tackle the reef in a different way – provided he can get through barriers to entry.
“We have designed a system to grow coral using electrical power; no one is doing what we are doing.” says Lear.
Lear says Water4Use is taking a land-based approach and applying it to the ocean.
“To me, there is a really simple solution – if trees are torn down we try and replant and revegetate, but with the reef, we do nothing when it dies off and don’t actually encourage reef growth,” he says.
“You wouldn’t try and regrow the whole reef at once, but rather small hubs of coral at a time so in an area of a kilometre you have about three or four hubs, and they can eventually expand out.”
Lear draws on studies such as one undertaken by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which reported the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its coral cover since 1985 due to climate change, run off, tourism and dredge spoils.
He admits he isn’t an expert on all of the forces impacting the reef.
However, he says Water4Use proposes to place capping structures on dredge spoil sites, which are often near port areas, so the negative impact of tidal erosion could be turned into a positive man made reef system (pictured right).
The structures would generate calcium carbonate growth by the application of low voltage electrical current, which Lear says wouldn’t impact marine life.
“Coral will be attached on the calcium carbonate rods to encourage growth,” says Lear.
“This initial man made coral garden would then enable a self-generating growth cycle that would not only keep expanding over decades, but indefinitely.
“This template could then be replicated to protect, rejuvenate and enlarge coral reef systems worldwide.”
Lear says his proposal isn’t far-reaching and is actually inexpensive.
Nevertheless, his plans are being stifled.
“There are a lot of people working on this problem and if anyone comes up with a solution, it will be very hard to get it through parliament,” says Lear.
“I can innovate and make the system commercially viable for companies, but cannot push legislation through parliament.”
Lear, who was recently one of 3000 CEOs invited to attend the YPO Global Edge summit in Melbourne, says red tape is strangling his plan.
He echoes the sentiment there needs to be ‘less talk, more action’ when it comes to matters involving the reef.
“Anywhere else in the world, they would say ‘go for it’, but we just aren’t operating in a climate of innovation,” he says.
“I was going to start my own reef guard and looked into where I could go to regrow coral in Australia. They pinpointed one spot out of the whole of Australia that I could operate out of, a small spot off the Whitsundays, and on top of this I have to get a miner’s license to actually do this on the reef.”
Lear doesn’t regard himself an “environmental warrior”, but vows he won’t be retiring from his reef crusade anytime soon.
“There must be a happy medium – environmental outcomes that are equally commercial and viable,” he says.
“Unfortunately, legislation in Australia is very, very hard and there are few people prepared to push the legislation boundaries.”
Written by Laura Daquino on Business News Australia, 13th of March, 2017