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The Great Barrier Reef Case Study

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Updated: Dec 16th, 2019


The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) can rightly be viewed as one of the most important natural resources in Australia. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. However, this reef system is exposed to a great number of environmental threats, namely, water pollution, climate change, oil spills, overfishing, and so forth (Johansen 2009, p. 293).

Many of these threats can be attributed to human activities. Such situation can hardly be accepted and more strict laws are required to protect the GBR. The new regulations must raise environmental standards for agricultural and manufacturing enterprises. These standards are particularly important when we speak about waste management and reduction of pesticides runoff.

Furthermore, the official authorities must reduce overfishing in this area. In part, it can be done by imposing heavier fines on poachers. Secondly, these regulatory measures must protect this natural resource from the oil spills by making oil shipping companies change their transportation routes. This report is aimed at discussing the effects of human activity on the GBR.

Moreover, it must show how new regulations can affect various stakeholders. To a great extent, this report will rely on such tools as system analysis and stakeholder analysis. Finally, one of our tasks is to determine if the management of the Great Barrier Reef corresponds to the latest environmental standards. These are the main objective that must be attained.

System Analysis

The system analysis has to demonstrate how various actors affect the ecosystem of the GBR. Secondly, it must show the impacts of these activities on the other stakeholders. Moreover, this analytical method must indentify the so-called positive and negative feedback loops.

This method will help us understand the causal relations between various elements of this socio-environmental system. Overall, these cause/effect network can be illustrated by means of the following diagrams.

Figure 1. The System Analysis Diagram of the Current Situation

The System Analysis Diagram of the Current Situation The System Analysis Diagram of the Current Situation part 2.

The first diagram indicates that the effects of human activities on the GBR may not be necessarily direct, and sometimes they are very difficult to trace. For example, the increased emission of greenhouse gases can be associated with the increased number of El Niño events. In turn, these variations of temperature can be ruinous for coral reefs (Arnold 2005, p. 30).

They can be the underlying cause of coral bleaching (Arnold 2005, p. 30). Thus, one can say that to a large extent, the survival of the Great Barrier Reef depends upon the government standards which regulate the emission of greenhouse. The changes in such regulations can affect a wide range of industrial enterprises.

As far as this issue is concerned, we can say that Australia is one of the first countries to implement legislation and standards reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Besides, such problem as climate change requires joint international cooperation.

This is why this report will focus on those problems which can be addressed by local rather than international authorities. For example, excessive fishing and water pollution can disrupt food chain and result in the overpopulation of the so-called crown-of-thorn starfishes that are partially responsible for the destruction of coral reefs (Shea 2006, p. 20).

Additionally, this diagram shows that there are several agents cause damage to the ecosystem of this area. First of all, one can speak about the agricultural and industrial enterprises which pollute water by damping their wastes into the rivers. This subsequently affects the nutrition of reefs and the food chain in this aquatic region. Moreover, one should not forget about which transport oil near the Great Barrier Reef.

We should bear in mind that within the last two there decades there have been more than two hundred oil spills in this area (Hutchings, Kingsford & Hoegh-Guldberg 2009., p 225). Such oil spills pose an enormous threat to aquatic life and cause the destruction of reefs. One of the possible solutions to this problem is make oil companies change their transportation routes. Yet, they can be unwilling to comply with this requirement.

We should take into consideration that coral reefs can be viewed as one of the most efficient ecosystems (National Research Council et al, 2000, p 195). They can thrive even in those waters which are not abundant in nutrients, but overload of nitrogen and other pollutants can reduce their reproductive capacity. Therefore, special attention should be given to agricultural and manufacturing companies.

It should be noted that there are many stakeholders who can sustain losses due to these environmental risks. In particular, one should speak about the entire tourism industry in Queensland.

One can mention the employees of tourist agencies, hotels, restaurants, excursion companies, and other organizations or people who benefit from the continuous inflow of visitors to Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1998, p. 705). One should keep in mind that this industry can bring more than one billion dollar a year. Therefore, its decline will be harmful to the entire community.

Additionally, we need to remember that the damage of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem can backfire on fishing industry. Continuous water pollution and poaching can may decrease the population of many species and reduce the profitability of many companies. Thus, by engaging in overfishing many companies can eventually put themselves in a very perilous position.

Hence, some of these enterprises can also be interested in the preservation of the GBR ecosystem. The management of the GBR has to be based on the study of ecosystem and its functioning. By overlooking it, the official authorizes put the well-being of the entire community at risk.

These are the main issues that policy-makers should consider. The policies that we proposed can be supported by various stakeholders, and they can significantly reduce the risks for the GBR. Yet, they can achieve success only if the government actively cooperates with private companies and NGOs.

The analysis of stakeholders

At this point it is necessary for us to apply stakeholder analysis to this situation. On the one hand, its purpose is to explain the interests and attitudes of people and organizations affecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Secondly, we need to explain how these stakeholders can react to the new regulations that strive to protect the Green Barrier Reef from destruction. On the basis of this analysis, one can better map out further strategies of the government.

Stakeholder Analysis Table

Stakeholder Current position and reaction to new regulatory measures Interest Power
Tourism Industry. This group of stakeholders is very diverse. It includes the owners and employees of tourism agencies, restaurants, hotels, food sellers, and other people. These stakeholders are more likely to favor new regulatory measures that reduce water pollution, excessive fishing. They are interested in sustaining in attracting visitor to Queensland. They have enormous financial and political power since they represent a large portion of the population.
Farmers Farmers can accept new regulations related to the use of pesticides. They can adopt various alternatives to pesticides such as beneficial insects, crop rotation, or at least low toxicity pesticides (Vorley & Keeney, 1998, p 20). These stakeholders have two inherent interests. First, they want to increase the volume of their production. Yet, they want to sustain demand for their products. In part, tourism contributes to this demand. These stakeholders have economic power. The supply of agricultural products is greatly dependent on them.
Fishing industry The new regulations related to commercial fishery. They are primarily intended against poachers who violate fishing rules and standards. Thus, these enterprises can accept the new regulations. These companies also want to maximize their profits but they also understand that their sustainability depends upon the survival of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. These stakeholders also have economic and financial power but it is not as strong as the power of economic industry or agriculture.
Government The government will be the main initiator of new standards related to water pollution and overfishing. This social institution has diverse range of interests. Its main task is to promote overall well-being of the community. Moreover, its task is to make sure none of stakeholders are harmed by new rules This social institution has political and legal power. It is the most influential stakeholder.
Oil Companies These companies will not readily accept the new regulations. These are profit-driven organizations, but they want to comply with environmental standards in order to avoid fines. These organizations have enormous economic and financial power, since they heavily invest in Australian infrastructure (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).
Scientific community and non-governmental organizations. They can willingly accept new environmental standards related to the protection of environment. These stakeholders are not driven by commercial interest. Their major concern is the scientific exploration of the GBR and preservation of aquatic life. The power of these stakeholders is intellectual. They can explain how pollution can harm the Great Barrier Reef and how its destruction can affect the lives of many Australian people. They can also increase public awareness about this issue.
Local residents Most likely, they will support this set of initiatives. To a large extent, these people are engaged in tourist industry. Yet, they are interest in the preservation of the GBR because it is an inseparable part of the natural landscape. It is possible to say that these people have political power.
Manufacturing enterprises. These organizations will accept the new standards of waste management if the government helps them in introducing new technologies. Fines are not sufficient in this case and the government has to provide them with some bonuses, for example tax reductions These companies are not related to tourism industry. The preservation of the Great Barrier Reef may not be essential for their economic sustainability. These organizations have primarily economic power. On the one hand, they are one of the major employees in the region, and the financial wellbeing of many people is dependent on their profitability.

These table shows that the overwhelming majority of stakeholders will not oppose the implementation of regulations which are aimed at protecting the Green Barrier Reef. They have sufficient legal, financial, intellectual, and political power in order to influence the decisions of the government. As it has been shown in the table some stakeholders have mixed interests.

On they one hand, they want to increase their profitability, and new regulations may not always be beneficial to them. However, they also realize that their long-term sustainability depends on the preservation of Australian natural resources, including the Great Barrier Reef. The only exception to this rule is oil companies which may be reluctant to change the transportation routes.

However, the hypothetical conflict can be resolved through negotiation. For instance, they can raise safety standards for oil tankers. Another important issue is how to align these stakeholders so that they could join their efforts. This task should be performed by governmental agencies, research or educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Without such cooperation, legislator changes are not likely to occur.

The analysis of the environment management system

At this point, it is necessary for us to determine whether current management and policies related to the Great Barrier Reef comply with international norms. For instance, we can refer to the rules set by the International Organization for Standardization. These rules are also known as ISO 14000. There are several important aspects of these standards, and they will be discussed in the following table.

The Scope and Purpose In the last two decades, the Australian government has made some significant attempts to protect the Great Barrier Reef from destruction. For example, one can speak about the laws which prohibit oil drilling in this aquatic region (Hutchings Kingsford & Hoegh-Guldberg, 2009).

However, these policies do not take into account other threats to the GBR, like oil spills, pesticide runoff, overfishing, or the increases of temperature.

To some degree, these policies were a response to some urgent problems but they failed to ensure long-term preservation of the GBR. This is their main limitation. The plan proposed in this paper is more comprehensive and detailed.

Policy Development and planning Admittedly, the policy development is based on the consideration of different stakeholders and their interests. For example, the authorities do try to take into account the needs of tourist industry.

However, the problem is that very stakeholders are unable to voice their recommendations about current policies. Moreover, virtually no attempt is made to align those people and organizations interested in the preservation of the GBR.

The set of initiatives that we propose is premised on careful study of stakeholder’s interests.
Another important aspect is the planning process. In this case, one can refer to the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Queensland Government, 2009). It does set some measureable targets and describes the parties which will accountable for the implementation of the plan.

Nonetheless, it seems that this plan does not clearly describe the key actions that the governmental authorities intend to take.

Moreover, it does not show what the authorities intend to do if they fail to achieve some of the expected results. In other words, they do not offer alternatives. This is a very significant drawback of their planning process.

Checking and corrective action ISO emphasizes that the organization continuously measures its results and outcomes. The Australian government usually takes corrective action in relation to the GBR only when there is some imminent threat to this natural resource. However, such corrections are not made on a regular basis.
Implementation and operation. At this point, it is too early to discuss the implementation of the plan. The thing is that many initiatives related to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef have yet to be reviewed by the government.

Yet, even now one can argue that they failed to communicate their intentions to the main stakeholders, for instance, farmers or manufacturing enterprises.

Management Review Australian policy-makers attach great important to management review. Their policies are based on the continuous evaluation of existing plans and policies. In some cases, it is done by independent experts (Queensland Government 2009, 10). These external auditors are supposed to identify and correct the flaws in the strategies of the local authorizes.

Thus, this table shows that current management of the Great Barrier Reef can be significantly improved. First of all, one should focus on the scope and purpose of policies. The government has to identify each of the factors which contribute to the destruction of the GBR and develop a set of clear-cut and feasible strategies to alleviate these factors.

The second drawback that one can point to is the communication with community and major stakeholders. The thing is that that their plan has to take into peculiarities of local farming enterprises and manufacturing companies.

This plan does explain how these organizations have to change or update their technologies and waste management practices. More importantly, they do not show how the government can assist these companies. This is one of the reasons why their initiatives cannot be accepted by private organizations.

Overall assessment of the case

The decision to tighten control over the pollution of waters and overfishing in the aquatic area of GBR can protect this ecosystem from environmental threats. First of all, these initiatives appear to be plausible from political point of view. It will be supported by many influential stakeholders like the representatives of tourism industry and local residents.

Secondly, some aspects of this plan can be negotiated with farmers and manufacturing companies. In part, the government can gain their support by offering financial support to those organizations which adopt eco-friendly technologies. However, some technical aspects of this decision still have to be negotiated. In particular, it is vital for the companies to develop the plans for implementing the new technologies.

This intiatives can be effective only if governmental agencies, NGOs and private companies work hand in hand. This is the indispensible condition for success. Finally, these initiatives can be properly implemented only if policy-makers gain support gain political, economic, and intellectual support of stakeholders.


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Johansen, B. E., 2009. The Encyclopedia of Global Warming Science and. Technology. London: ABC-Clio.

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National Research Council (U.S.). Ocean Studies Board, National Research Council (U.S.), 2000. Water Science and Technology Board, 2000, Clean coastal waters: understanding and reducing the effects of nutrient pollution. Washington: National Academies Press.

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Vorley, W., & Keeney, D., 1998. Bugs in the system: redesigning the pesticide industry for sustainable agriculture. NY: Earthscan.

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