Massive Land clearing in QLD and its impact on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

At a recent awards ceremony in London the eminent naturalist David Attenborough reiterated that his favourite place in the world is North Queeensland.

“It has for a naturalist everything. It has amazing rainforest which is quite unlike any other rainforest in the world. Not only does it have that but down on the coast it has the Great Barrier Reef.”

The nonagenarian who first the reef in the 1950s has continued to produce documentaries on the natural world bringing scientific discoveries into people’s lounge rooms. To his credit in accepting his award he did not shy away from stating that the natural riches of QLD are under threat.

“Its in danger that’s for sure, but then natural places all over the world are in danger. Its quite true that up in North Queensland there’s been huge developments over the past 50 years”

Despite the fact that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism in the world, listed as a UNESCO heritage site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world, its existence is under question through climate change, poor water quality, and coastal land development. Large scale land clearing and the reckless development of QLD is a key driver.


The Great Barrier Reef is under duress and has lost 50% of coral cover since 2012, with mass bleaching events in 2016-17. Climate change is driving the degradation of reef health through rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and the increased intensity and frequency of severe weather events.

Historically there has been massive land clearing for pasturalism, sugar cane production, and mineral extraction, but even with the benefit of hindsight and a greater understanding of what is required for the health of the reef, large scale clearing has continued since the repeal of stringent restrictions by then premier Campbell Newman in 2013.

Coal production in QLD has increased rapidly in recent years. Much of that coal has been exported, this has seen an increase in sea traffic which impairs water quality through potential for shipping accidents and oil spills. There has been the associated development of ports and sea infrastructure, which has affected water quality through coastal clearing and port dredging dumping the spoil at sea.

Land clearing for pastoralist expansion has far surpassed clearing for any other land use which has seen broadscale clearing of old growth and remnant vegetation. Grazing occurs in all basins of the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

Sugar cane crops have increased substantially in recent years in QLD. The sugar cane industry has been listed as one of the key sources of pollutant run off to the reef i.e. Sediment, pesticides and nutrients which is a cause of immense damage to coral reef and sea grass.

The WWF listed Eastern Australia as one of its deforestation hot spots. Approximately 1.2 million hectares of land has been cleared since 2012 in QLD.

Attenborough states at the conclusion to his Great Barrier Reef documentary.

“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger. The twin perils brought by climate change, an increase in temperature of the ocean and its acidity, if they continue to rise at the present rate the reefs will be gone within decades and that would be a global catastrophe.”

The reckless clearing of land in Queensland is spelling the death sentence for the Great Barrier Reef, it is a social crime that our natural wonders are incontrovertibly lost to us. It is impossible to improve the condition of the reef under the framework of the private ownership of the means of production, as all efforts for remedial work run counter to the profit interests of the capitalist class. The serious work required to mitigate this crisis can only occur when societies’ productive and scientific capacities are under democratic and egalitarian control, not perverted by the dictates of private profit.

Further reading

Review of Blue Planet II

Review of Planet Earth II

Climate change and the Capitalist system


Owen Hsieh is an independent Marxist living between Western Australia and Taiwan. An avid bibliophile and book collector with a special interest in Eastern European literature and history, currently focused on the Russian Revolution and Stalinism.

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