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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Environment

Sep 04, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

WRITTEN BY

Terry Hughes

That’s the conclusion of the latest five-yearly report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, released on Friday. The report assessed literally hundreds of scientific studies published on the reef’s declining condition since the last report was published in 2014.

The past five years were a game-changer. Unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2016 and 2017, triggered by record-breaking warm sea temperatures, severely damaged two-thirds of the reef. Recovery since then has been slow and patchy.

Fish swimming among coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Looking to the future, the report said “the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations […] the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now”.

But that window of opportunity is being squandered so long as Australia’s and the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The evidence on the reef’s condition is unequivocal

A logical national response to the outlook report would be a pledge to curb activity that contributes to global warming and damages the reef. Such action would include a ban on the new extraction of fossil fuels, phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, transitioning to electrified transport, controlling land clearing and reducing local stressors on the reef such as land-based runoff from agriculture.

But federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s response to the outlook report suggested she saw no need to take dramatic action on emissions, when she declared: “it’s the best managed reef in the world”.

Major coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated the reef.

The federal government’s lack of climate action was underscored by another dire report card on Friday. Official quarterly greenhouse gas figures showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest annual levels since the 2012-13 financial year.

But rather than meaningfully tackle Australia’s contribution to climate change, the federal government has focused its efforts on fixing the damage wrought on the reef. For example as part of a A$444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the government has allocated $100 million for reef restoration and adaptation projects over the next five years or so.

Solutions being supported by the foundation include a sunscreen-like film to float on the water to prevent light penetration, and gathering and reseeding coral spawn Separately, Commonwealth funds are also being spent on projects such as giant underwater fans to bring cooler water to the surface.

But the scale of the problem is much, much larger than these tiny interventions.


Climate change is not the only threat to the reef

The second biggest impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s health is poor water quality, due to nutrient and sediment runoff into coastal habitats. Efforts to address that problem are also going badly.

This was confirmed in a confronting annual report card on the reef’s water quality, also released by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments on Friday.

The Great Barrier Reef attained world heritage status in the 1980s.
AAP

It showed authorities have failed to reach water quality targets set under the Reef 2050 Plan – Australia’s long-term plan for improving the condition of the reef.

For example the plan sets a target that by 2025, 90% of sugarcane land in reef catchments should have adopted improved farming practices. However the report showed the adoption had occurred on just 9.8% of land, earning the sugarcane sector a grade of “E”.

So yes, the reef is definitely in danger

The 2019 outlook report and other submissions from Australia will be assessed next year when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets to determine if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” – an outcome the federal government will fight hard to avoid.

An in-danger listing would signal to the world that the reef was in peril, and put the federal government under greater pressure to urgently prevent further damage. Such a listing would be embarrassing for Australia, which presents itself as a world’s-best manager of its natural assets.

Environment activists engaged in a protest action to bring attention to the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

The outlook report maintains that the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef
that led to its inscription as a world heritage area in 1981 are still intact, despite the loss of close to half of the corals in 2016 and 2017.

But by any rational assessment, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Most of the pressures on the reef are ongoing, and some are escalating – notably anthropogenic heating, also known as human-induced climate change.

Read more:
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions

And current efforts to protect the reef are demonstrably failing. For example despite an ongoing “control” program, outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish – triggered by poor water quality – have spread throughout the reef.

The federal government has recently argued that climate change should not form the basis for an in-danger listing, because rising emissions are not the responsibility of individual countries. The argument comes despite Australia having one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world.

But as Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – an outcome supported by government policy – the continued downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef is inevitable.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: A supplied image obtained Thursday, June 6, 2013 of holiday makers in the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland, October 2008. ReefLive, a live 12-hour interactive online show about the reef, will be broadcast on YouTube from 10am (AEST) on Friday to coincide with World Ocean Day on Saturday. (AAP Image/Supplied by Tourism and Events Queensland, Richard Fitzpatrick) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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Events

Aug 26, 2019

A Tipping Point for Freeride Mountain Biking

Freeride has remained conspicuously male-dominated. Now, a tenacious group of riders are part of a movement to change that, and they’re throwing down at some of mountain biking’s biggest events.

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WRITTEN BY

Alicia Leggett

This year we welcomed the inaugural Women’s Slopestyle Tour, which gave women opportunities to compete in dirt jump, freeride and slopestyle events throughout North America and allowed female riders to – for the first time – earn points in the Freeride Mountain Biking Association (FMBA) worldwide ranking system. As part of the tour, Crankworx Whistler, one of the most celebrated mountain biking festivals, included women’s categories in its ‘Speed and Style’ and ‘Best Trick’ competitions, which had previously been open to just men.

Why now? Lisa Mason, organizer of the Women’s Freeride Movement, which hosts riding clinics and competitions, said that women simply haven’t been ready for this level of competition until now. Mountain biking began as a male-dominated sport, which has kept many women from participating. Now, thanks to women’s riding clinics, group rides and competitions, the sport is becoming more inclusive.

“Every year there’s like a third more women out riding,” Mason said. “I think eventually we’ll get away from the ‘ladies only,’ and it’ll be an ‘everybody, let’s party’ kind of thing.”

I caught up with Mason at Crankworx, where she cheered for all the riders and took notes on their Speed and Style runs. The competition integrated elements from racing and slopestyle, with competitors riding a course of fast berms, rollers and two big trick jumps. They rode against the clock, but were also judged and given time deductions based on their tricks.

Chelsea Kimball throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Alicia Leggett

At events that have never before included women, competitors and event organizers alike face a learning curve. The Speed and Style jumps were so big that the women (and even some of the top men) struggled to clear them, making it next to impossible for them to show their best tricks.

Competitor Chelsea Kimball said she wishes the Speed and Style course design had been more realistic. Kimball can backflip her bike on the right jumps, but the difficult course meant that just making it down the hill smoothly became a priority.

“It was a bit harder than it looked,” Kimball said. “It was super fun, but you really had to rail the corners to make it what it should be.”

Kat Sweet, who runs the Sweetlines coaching organization and puts on one of the Women’s Slopestyle Tour events, echoed Kimball’s opinion of the course.

“Between the jumps being a little bit too gnarly and the headwind blowing on them, it didn’t showcase what they really can do,” Sweet said. “The sport has progressed so much, especially in jumping, and the women are really pushing. I would love to be able to showcase that better.”

Kat Sweet: Mountain biker, event organizer and mentor to the next generation of female riders. Photo by Alicia Leggett

Sweet acknowledges that women haven’t been involved in freeride for as long as men have, and can’t be expected to skip the development phase.

“Every year, things get a little bigger, and we haven’t quite caught up yet. If we built a course that would really show off what we’re doing, that would help us elevate both the kids and the ladies,” Sweet said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

But despite minor snags like the Crankworx course, 2019 can be considered a milestone year for female freeriders.

Women’s Slopestyle Tour competitors are universally enthusiastic about the increased opportunities for women to test themselves in competition.

“The slopestyle tour has been a blast,” said Kimball, who is ranked fifth in the FMBA rankings. “I never thought I’d be doing anything like this, but I’ve had a really good time with it meeting more women who are trying to do the same thing and just having a good time.”

Sweet’s organization, Sweetlines, ran the Sugar Showdown, which was the first event in the tour. The Sugar Showdown was first held in 2012, but its new partnership with the FMBA, the official international freeride governing body, allowed it to become something bigger than ever before.

“Having it be a FMBA bronze-level event really made people push a little bit harder, so it was really cool to be the first stop in that,” Sweet explained. “It was kind of an honor to be the first.”

As more women pursue freeride, the sport’s image is becoming more inclusive, making it accessible for even more women. And as perceptions of mountain biking shift, Mason, Sweet and Kimball agree that the bike industry needs to keep up with the evolution by investing in female riders.

Mason said that increased support from within the bike world would help grow the scene, which would change the sport’s image, which would involve more women, in turn attracting yet more support.

“It’s an upward spiral,” she said. “We need awareness. Awareness that women are doing these kinds of things and that it’s okay and easy, and not just a ‘guys only’ sport.”

Sweet said she’s excited to see what the next generation of female riders can accomplish. Recruiting and coaching young girls is an important part of what organizations like Sweetlines and the Women’s Freeride Movement do, in addition to giving them competition platforms, especially since women like Sweet and Mason can be the role models that many of us didn’t have when we were younger.

With all the enthusiasm for the Women’s Slopestyle Tour and its associated movement, it’s safe to say that the necessary changes are happening – maybe slowly, but inevitably. I, personally, hope for a future in which little girls receive the same encouragement to mountain bike as little boys do. That future seems to be coming, and it’s bright.

Cover photo: Casey Brown throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Cailin Carrier

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