$18 million for Great Barrier Reef projects 'too late': Scientist

None of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef damaged by bleaching in 2016 is expected to recover. (AAP) Source: CORAL REEF STUDIES

The Coalition government has announced $18 million for six projects to improve water quality and protect coastal habitats on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Federal government announced $18 million in funding for six new projects to protect the Great Barrier Reef on Thursday, but a water quality expert says it is too little, too late.

The initiatives, which are part of an ongoing water quality improvement program, address erosion of stream banks and gullies, an issue which is responsible for 70 per cent of the fine sediment runoff onto the reef, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said in a statement.

Land-based runoff, which includes pesticides and nutrients from farms, causes serious damage to corals and seagrass and contributes to crown of thorns starfish outbreaks.

“The projects are part of a coordinated effort to protect the Reef,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Water quality expert Jon Brodie said the $18 million package was small and unlikely to return any real gains.

“It’s good, but it’s all a bit little too late,” said Mr Brodie, who is a professorial research fellow from James Cook University.

The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, established by the Queensland government, has estimated it will cost $8.2 billion to reach water quality targets set for 2025.

Mr Brodie said the Federal government needed to strengthen regulations around agricultural practices in the reef’s catchment area and address climate change.

“The water quality management will get short term gains... but in the end we also have to manage climate change,” he told SBS.

Recent aerial surveys showed mass coral bleaching was affecting two thirds of the reef for a second time in 12 months.

Great Barrier Reef Bleaching
Recent aerial surveys showed mass coral bleaching was affecting two thirds of the reef for a second time in 12 months. (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies)
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Bleaching occurs when heat stress causes coral to expel tiny, colourful photosynthetic algae from inside their tissue, turning them white.

Corals can recover if the temperature drops and the algae return, but periods of sustained bleaching leads to coral death.

The Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies said on Monday that severe bleaching in 2016 and 2017 had only left the southern third of the reef unscathed.

The ARC Centre said high coral mortality was likely, especially in the central part of the reef, and Australia needed to do more to cut carbon emissions.

The water quality projects will be funded through the Reef Trust under its Phase IV Gully and Streambank Erosion Control Program.

Watch: The Feed looks into the impacts of reef dumping

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