Facing the Challenges of the Next 50 Years: Interview with Russell Reichelt - Chair, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

MPA News

In October 2007, Russell Reichelt was named the new chairman and CEO of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), overseeing one of the world's largest and best-known MPAs. Previously he had served as CEO of both the CRC Reef Research Centre and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and was formerly chairman of Australia's Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Reichelt is faced with leading GBRMPA through a challenging period, addressing significant threats to the long-term health of the Great Barrier Reef. MPA News asked him how he viewed his park's role in the greater MPA community, and what his plans are for managing the park.

MPA News: What roles does the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority see itself serving in the global community of MPAs?

Russell Reichelt: GBRMPA is continually striving to achieve best practice. The Park sits within a World Heritage Area that adds additional international obligations. We have a program of active engagement with the international community through intergovernmental relationships, such as the World Heritage Committee and other broader partnerships such as the International Coral Reef Initiative. GBRMPA contributes to these groups the lessons it has learned, but also benefits tremendously from our partners' experiences.

MPA News: Can you describe your philosophy for governing GBRMPA?

Reichelt: Our primary goal is the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. My management philosophy is to establish clear goals, ensure commitment from all major stakeholders (especially the Australian Government), and establish strong accountability mechanisms so we know whether we are succeeding in our efforts to achieve the goal. GBRMPA cannot achieve its goal without close partnerships with the Queensland Government and the major user groups who operate or live in the Great Barrier Reef region and its catchments.

MPA News: What do you see as the main challenges facing the marine park in the next 5 years, and the next 50 years?

Reichelt: The main challenges for the GBR Marine Park in the next five years are the effects of climate change, especially heat-induced coral bleaching events and the decline in coastal water quality that is reducing the resilience of the ecosystem.

In the next 50 years, I expect at least a doubling of the population of one million people along the coastline adjacent to the Marine Park. This will lead to steadily increasing pressures from coastal development and risks to water quality and loss of critical habitat such as wetlands and seagrasses. It will also lead to rising levels of conflict between sectors that compete for use of the Park.

MPA News: How will GBRMPA address these challenges?

Reichelt: Cooperation across jurisdictions and among stakeholders will be very important. Commercial and recreational fishing, marine tourism, indigenous hunting, recreational boating, ports and shipping are all important and valid uses of the Marine Park. I expect GBRMPA to pursue new partnerships and cooperative arrangements to minimize resource use conflict in this contested seascape.

Apart from better capacity to broker productive relationships, I expect GBRMPA to focus on improved knowledge systems, especially synthesis and sharing of knowledge. This will be critically important in developing new policy and management arrangements, and also in developing transparent, visible accountability mechanisms such as the forthcoming "Outlook Report" for the Great Barrier Reef, which is due in 2009. [For more information:www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/about_us/great_barrier_reef_outlook_report.]

MPA News: Will the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park look different in 50 years?

Reichelt: It is inevitable that mass bleaching events will cause changes, but I am hoping the Great Barrier Reef will still be a beautiful tropical marine ecosystem as it is now. There are no detailed forecasts of either bleaching impacts or resilience to bleaching so any comment on how the park will look is guesswork. I expect changes in the pattern of biodiversity and age structure due to bleaching events in the same way that the Crown-of-Thorns starfish outbreaks in the central third of the park have encouraged the faster-growing corals such as Acropora. There are healthy populations of herbivorous fishes throughout the park, and efforts are underway by the fisheries managers to bring effort on top predators (fish and sharks) under control. I am hopeful that present efforts to improve water quality will bear fruit and the current decline of inshore reefs will stabilize or reverse. Forecast impacts of acidification in longer timeframes (centuries) are not good. As Charlie Veron says in his new book, A Reef in Time (Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 231): "With immediate global action now to drastically reduce CO2 emissions, there will come a time when the crisis has passed. The Great Barrier Reef, although scarred, will come through whatever lies ahead and once again be the place it is now."

For more information

Russell Reichelt, GBRMPA, PO Box 1379, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia. E-mail: russell.reichelt [at] gbrmpa.gov.au