Ben & Jerry’s Wade Into Great Barrier Reef Dispute

great barrier reefScoop ice cream, not the reef, says Ben & Jerry’s, the eco-friendly company known for their support of environmental causes. They have been raising concerns about damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the world, by the incumbent Australian government.

Having stopped production of their popular Phish Food flavor to draw attention to the plight of the Reef, they have gone on to tour up and down the coastline, handing out free ice-cream along the way, to alert Australians to the dangers facing one of its most beautiful assets.

The Queensland government is hopping mad, and no amount of smooth, cold ice cream will calm them down. They say Ben & Jerry’s have been duped by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its false “propaganda.” Andrew Powell, Queensland’s Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, is calling for a boycott on the American brand, claiming they are the ones doing the damage, to jobs and to the lucrative tourism dollar.

Powell says that Unilever (Ben and Jerry’s parent company) have signed up to a campaign of “lies and deceit” which have been “propagated by the WWF.”

In counter-protest, Kalli Swaik, manager for Ben & Jerry’s in Australia, says that the dredging and dumping going on in the waters around the Reef is hurting the ecology and the infrastructure of the world heritage site.

In January,2014, the Queensland and federal Australian governments agreed a deal whereby the coal port at Abbot Point could dump its spoil and waste into the marine park, and they tried to calm fears by insisting 70 percent of that would sink.

There was general incredulity at the decision, and yet it was in keeping with other moves taken by this government, such as giving the go-ahead to fell ancient and protected rain forest in Tasmania. The dumping of the spoil from the giant coal yards is not the only threat to the Reef. Shipping highways and mega-ports are also contributing to its slow, inexorable and inevitable destruction.

The United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)is meeting in June to decide whether to declare that the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site is in danger. The WWF are sure that it is. Dermot O’Gorman, the CEO of the WWF said that all around the world people were deeply worried about how the Reef is being treated. O”Gorman was thrilled at Ben & Jerry’s road trip and the way it was begging the question,”Is the reef being mismanaged?”

In a bid to quell some of the disquiet since the Abbot Point agreement went ahead, the Queensland government set up a website Reef Facts to correct “false claims.” Andrew Powell boasted that Reef Facts was scientific and above “opinion and hysteria.” The Australia Marine Conservation Society pointed out that there were glaring omissions in Reef Facts about the real state of the reef. Dredging spoils can travel for 80 km. The edge of the Reef is just 40 km from Abbot Point, putting it well within the range of the spoil.

Other scientists have called Reef Facts a “political document” and “not very accurate.” It does not mention, for example, that the reef is home to dolphins, dugongs and fish. It does not mention climate change, and downplayed future dredging and dumping projects, by not mentioning the future.

John Brodie, from James Cook University Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, said the park authority had acknowledged there would be harm to sea-grass and corals. In papers obtained through freedom of information the Great Barrier Reef Marin Park Authority said after the dumping took place in January that it posed “an unacceptable social and environmental risk.”

An organisation called Fight for the Reef outlines the risks to the reef. Amongst other facts they point out that the crash of just one of the 4,000 super tankers that cruise the shipping superhighway would cause irreversible devastation. By the end of this decade that number is expected to go up to 7,000 ships.

Dredging, says Fight for the Reef, is necessary to get these huge bulk carriers in and out of the mega ports. Sixty million tonnes of seabed is slated to be dredged and the dumped materials will ruin water quality and kill corals.

The so-called “Green Tape Reduction Act” passed in 2012 was designed to speed up fast track approvals for more industrial development. Abbot Point will become the largest coal port in the entire world and yet it sits just 40 km away from the Whitsunday Islands, prime tourist destinations.

Industrialization is not the only major threat facing the reef. The crown of thorns starfish (COT) has contributed hugely to its shrinkage. Sugar cane farming is being blamed for the rise in these carnivorous pests which have been munching their way through the coral cover. The Great Barrier Reef is already half the size it was 27 years ago.

The COT operate in an extraordinary manner. Sometimes as big as dinner plates, they move on to coral, invert their stomachs, and then dissolve the coral’s tissue before digesting it. The run-off from the excessive use of fertilizers in the sugar cane fields is said to be responsible for the rapid rise in these creatures. They thrive on the high levels of nutrients and have multiplied exponentially.

Ben & Jerry’s have campaigned many times in the 35 year history of the company, and this time they are scooping out free ice cream to try to stop the Australian government scooping out the Great Barrier Reef. Whether calls to boycott them are successful remains to be seen. Australians love their ice cream and they love their Great Barrier Reef too.

By Kate Henderson

Sources:
News.com.au
BBC News
Fight for the Reef
Ben and Jerry.co.uk

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