|Several years ago, filmmaker Sally Ingleton learnt to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. A tthe time she was working on a project far out in the Coral Sea and was fortunate enough to dive in some of the worlds most pristine and untouched coral gardens. Later, while diving in Indonesia, she was shocked by the contrast. Many of the reefs close to shore were bleached, covered in algae and in a general state of poor health. Whilst some of this was due to global warming, the majority was due to human impact. She found herself wondering if parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef were also showing signs of ill health. And if so, who was taking its pulse?
By 2010, 40% of the worlds coral reefs may be dead. By 2030, half of the Great Barrier Reef may be gone. Parts of it are already dying, but the reasons have not always been clear.
Global warming and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish have put extraordinary pressure on the reef. Now scientists have identified another threat sediments, fertilisers and pesticides from agricultural run-off.
The reefs most at risk lie along Australias northeastern coast between Cairns and Townsville. This is the heart of the wet tropics where high rainfall regularly causes rivers like the Tully to flood, sending huge plumes of mud and chemicals into the sea. In their natural state, native wetlands filter the rain and silt but more than 60% has been cleared and drained for sugarcane.
Sugarcane farmers, suffering bad seasons and low prices, are reeling at the prospect that their land management practices may be part of the problem. Some locals are trying to bring all the parties together to develop a workable solution, but leading the way can be hard work.
Life and Death on the Great Barrier Reef journeys to the plantations of north Queensland and into an underwater world to find out whats killing the reef and what can be done to save it. It is the story of a small community facing the challenges of responsibility and change. This time, what is at stake is one of the worlds greatest natural treasures.
The program is a Film Australia National Interest program in association with December Films. Developed with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission and Film Victoria. Produced in association with SBS Independent.