(Beyond Pesticides, August 18, 2011) A new report by the Australian government finds that agricultural pesticides are severely damaging the Great Barrier Reef; despite this fact, sugarcane growers have been allowed a six week extension to continue to use the weed killer diuron, which was intially set to be suspended for use on August 13. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan First Report Card estimates that 28,000 kilograms (or approximately 61,730 pounds) of pesticides enter the reef, which is the world’s largest structure made up of living organisms and a World Heritage natural wonder. The findings in the report corroborate previous research on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
The sugarcane industry claims that the research is based on old data and that there have been significant changes in practices, including cutting back on the use of pesticides. Though the Australian government acknowledges these changes, those improvements have been undermined by Cyclone Yasi. The heavy flooding from Yasi, which ripped through the region earlier this year, likely flushed pollutants out into the reef.
According to the industry, the suspension of the use of diuron would drive up the costs for sugarcane growers because there is no viable alternative to the herbicide. Environmentalists, including Nick Heath, national manager of freshwaters at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia, are disappointed with the decision to extend the use of diuron and point out that sugarcane growers have had eight years to find an alternative.
“It is likely Diuron is poisoning the health of seagrass and coral, further contributing to the current heavy die-off of hundreds of turtles and dugong,” Mr Heath told The Australian. “We call on the federal government to move swiftly to ban this chemical.”
Seventy-five percent of the pesticide pollution on the reef is caused by diuron, says WWF. It has been found up to 60km (or approximately 38 miles) inside the reef and at levels that are toxic to the coral. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies diuron is a known/likely human carcinogen. It is also frequently detected in streams and is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.