Tourist operators on the Great Barrier Reef are shifting their stance on climate change, with the peak industry body opposing Adani's "mega coal mine", and acknowledging fossil fuel use has to be phased out.
In an unprecedented declaration, a year in the making, the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) called on "all our political leaders…to fight for the future of our reef".
"The carbon pollution from coal, oil and gas is heating the air and the oceans to dangerous levels," the statement said, noting the record marine heatwaves in 2016 and 2017 had damaged coral reefs worldwide. "Its not too late to save our Reef but time is critical."
"On climate change, I'm sold," Col McKenzie, AMPTO's long-serving chief executive, told Fairfax Media. "It's a man-made issue."
The declaration has already drawn dozens of signatories among tourist businesses and adds to local calls for climate action from local government such as Douglas Shire council.
Imogen Zethoven, the society's reef campaign director, said the tourism industry had been "in a state of shock" after the first bout of mass coral bleaching in 2016, and had resisted discussing climate change.
But a second bout in 2017 brought a recognition that a warming planet "is an existential threat to the reef and the tourism industry", Ms Zethoven said.
Tony Fontes, a dive operator based in the Whitsundays since the 1980s, called AMPTO's shift "a huge step".
"It's overdue but it is happening," Mr Fontes said. "Basically we need a mass campaign" to protect the reef.
How far the tourist industry push dovetails with the anti-Adani campaign remains to be seen.
Bob Manning, Cairns Regional Council mayor, doubts opposition to the Indian miner's proposed giant Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin "gets us anywhere".
Still, "Adani has done us no favour overseas", Mr Manning said. "Its hard for us to say we are responsibly managing the reef…but at the same time were letting those coal ships through."
A spokeswoman for Adani said the company remains "100 per cent committed to the Carmichael project and are confident of securing finance".
"Strict safety and environmental standards already governing shipping along the Queensland coast will ensure there is no impact to the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
Ian Macfarlane, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council, said coal from the basin "is high energy, lower emission coal when compared with lower quality, higher emission coals sourced from Indonesia and India".
"The addressing of climate change is a global issue and requires all countries to be involved in lowering emissions," he said.
Mark Read, acting director of field management at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said the tourism industry's new stance comes even as visitor numbers rebound to record levels.
“These are the people who spend their lives taking people out, [who have] lived and breathed and tried to make a living through these tough times," Dr Read said.
Still, the authority is not in a position to discuss curbs on Australian coal, such as the Adani mine.
Climate change “is the thing that the global community most desperately needs to tackle if were going to…give the reef a real possible chance for a long-term future,” Dr Read said.
Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.
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