Australia pledges millions to restore Great Barrier Reef

Conservationists welcome the funding, but say not enough is being done to adopt cleaner energy sources

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 7:14pm

Australia pledged half a billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef on Sunday in what it said would be a boost for the embattled natural wonder, but conservationists were not convinced.

The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

It is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural run-off.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more than A$500 million (US$400 million) would go towards improving water quality, tackling predators, and expanding restoration efforts.

Turnbull said it was the “largest ever single investment to protect the reef, secure its viability and the 64,000 jobs that rely on the reef”.

“We want to ensure the reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” he said.

The reef is a critical national asset, contributing A$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.

Canberra has previously committed more than A$2.0 billion to protect the site over the next decade but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby.

Turnbull said part of the money will be used to mitigate the affects of climate change, but gave no details.

Conservationists said while the funding was important, not enough was being done to embrace clean energy.

“Our elected representatives can’t have it both ways,” said Australian Conservation Foundation chief Kelly O’Shanassy. “Climate change is the number one threat to the Great Barrier Reef and only concerted action to cut pollution will fully protect it.”

The bulk of the new funding – just over A$200 million – was earmarked to improve water quality by changing farming practices and adopting new technologies and land management.

“The money will go towards improving water quality, working with farmers to prevent sediment, nitrogen and pesticide run-off into the reef,” said Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.

“It will ensure that we tackle the crown-of-thorns … and use the best available science to ensure our coral is resilient to heat and light stress.”

He said the government would work with traditional Aboriginal owners, the tourism industry, farmers and scientists, to save the reef, calling the commitment “a game-changer”.

Earlier this month, scientists said the site suffered a “catastrophic die-off” of coral during an extended heatwave in 2016, threatening a broader range of reef life than previously feared.

A study in the journal Nature said some 30 per cent of the reef’s coral perished, the first of an unprecedented two successive years of coral bleaching along the 2,300km (1,400-mile) reef.