Australia pledges largest single investment to protect Great Barrier Reef

Sean Reid
May 1, 2018

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

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull's office, along with the ministers for foreign affairs, energy and environment, released a joint statement, commenting: "we want to ensure the Reef's future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the Reef..."

"Clearly the government isn't investing in the entire Great Barrier Reef but importantly it will probably be investing in areas where we have targeted commercial interests - those tourists jobs", she said.

Australia's commitment is the single largest investment for reef conservation and management in the country's history. It is also home to a number of endangered species, including the large green turtle and the dugong, a cousin of the manatee.

The heat waves coming from the climate changes are damaging and killing off corals. After that time, the Marine Park Authority will receive a guaranteed ongoing funding increase of more than $10 million per year for field management - doubling the Australian Government's contribution to the program in the long-term. It also aims to ramp up the fight against coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, and breed coral that is more resistant to high temperatures and light stress.

The government will partner with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in a $444m agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Australia's multi-part plan involves cutting down on populations of crown-of-thorns starfish (which are known to feed on coral reefs), improving the quality of the seawater near the reef (partly by encouraging farmers to use less fertilizers), increasing monitoring of the reef's health, and trying to grow more resilient coral in laboratories.

The world's largest coral reef, spanning 133,000 square miles, has endured extreme environmental strain in recent years, to the point that a fake obituary that was written for it in 2016 went viral. The plan is optimistic to improve the health of the corals and also monitor the health of the reef overall in the future. "You can't be serious about saving the reef without a serious plant to tackle climate change", he said.

The reef was listed as a world heritage site in 1981 by the United Nations cultural body Unesco. It is the largest living structure on Earth that is visible from space.

The reef is worth an estimated $3.7 billion annually to the Australian economy through fishing and tourism.

Jon Brodie, a professor at James Cook University's Coral Reef Studies Centre of Excellence said the funding was an extension of existing failed programmmes. Globally, the reefs form nurseries for a quarter of the world's fish.

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