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Australia to invest $379 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef

  • Australia is set to invest more than 500 million Australian dollars ($379 million) in funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The investment will help restore water quality, tackle crown-of-thorns starfish attacks on coral, and fund research on coral resilience and adaptation.
  • Some critics are, however, concerned that the funding aims to target strategies that have already being tried in the past, and have seen limited success.

The Australian Government has announced more than 500 million Australian dollars ($379 million) in funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

This “represents the single largest investment for reef conservation and management in Australia’s history,” Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment and Energy, wrote in an op-ed on April 29.

The Great Barrier Reef, stretching over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) and covering an area larger than United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined, is the world’s largest known coral reef system. It harbors a huge diversity of corals, jellyfish, molluscs, fish, sharks and rays, dolphins and whales. In recent years though, the reef has been under serious threat from mass bleaching events due to warming waters triggered by climate change. The reef is also affected by agricultural runoff, and has been under attack from outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, a natural predator of coral that’s been causing widespread loss of coral.

The new funding will be used to target some of these threats. According to the Australian government, the investment will help restore water quality by improving farming practices and fertilizer management. It will also be used to tackle attacks from crown-of-thorns starfish; to monitor the reef’s health; to engage communities in citizen science; and for research on coral resilience and adaptation.

“The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder of the world, supporting tens of thousands of jobs through Queensland,” Frydenberg wrote in the op-ed. “It’s an environmental asset in which all Australians have a stake and today’s announcement by the Turnbull Government of $500 million in new funding will help secure its future.”

The Great Barrier Reef marine park. Image by Wise Hok Wai Lum via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Some researchers are, however, skeptical.

“The federal government’s announcement of more than A$500 million in funding for the Great Barrier Reef is good news. It appears to show a significant commitment to the reef’s preservation – something that has been lacking in recent years,” Jon Brodie, Professorial Fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the James Cook University, Australia, wrote in The Conversation. “But one concern with the package is that it seems to give greatest weight to the strategies that are already being tried – and which have so far fallen a long way short of success.”

In a statement on Twitter, the Australian Academy of Science said that the government would have to address the root cause of the problem — climate change and warming waters — to actually protect the reef.

A variety of corals form an outcrop on Flynn Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Image by Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
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