Canary in the coal mine for Great Barrier Reef died in 2011

THE World Heritage Committee's concerns about the Great Barrier Reef raised in 2011 was the "canary in the coal mine" for the future of the reef, a Whitsunday tourism figure said in Canberra on Tuesday.

Tony Brown, from the Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association, said the warnings from the committee and the subsequent strategic assessment should be seen as a warning for more research.

Mr Brown joined local operator Tony Fontes and reef campaigners from the Australian Marine Conservation Society in Canberra for meetings with politicians with all major parties.

He said while the strategic assessments were a good step, the reality was that "no-one knew" what the overall impact of dredging projects could be, and how dredging might interact with other risks to the reef.

"We don't know, the politicians don't know, the scientists don't know, the Great barrier Reef Marine Park Authority doesn't know,' he said.

"I think we should make sure we have more scientific knowledge before we continue to approve dredging projects."

Mr Brown said he wasn't concerned only with dredging, but all potential threats to the reef's environment and the uncertainty surrounding the actual current and future threats.

"The strategic assessment is a good step in the right direction, but we need to be looking at everything, and doing the research so we can be confident about the future," he said.

Mr Brown said he was particularly concerned as he believed past dredging projects to the north and south of the Whitsunday's had already affected water quality and visibility.

"Our region is in great condition, but we've seen the water get cloudier over time, with marked falls in visibility since 2006," he said.

"We don't know whether that's dredging, or cyclonic activity, or floods, but the reality is it's there, and we should make sure we know the effects before we do any more damage."

He said some 40% of all visitors to the reef came to the Whitsunday's, many for charter boat tours, and the industry needed the reef to be healthy.

"We've still got great, pristine areas of the reef all up and down the coast and the islands, but I don't think we should be risking that if we don't understand what could happen," he said.

The campaigners distributed a book of stories about Australians experiences on the reef to politicians, and met with MPs from Labor, the Coalition and The Greens.

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