Is $500m enough to save the Great Barrier Reef?


A $500 million rescue package has been announced by the federal government to help the Great Barrier Reef, but experts and green groups aren't sure if it will be enough.

The federal government has announced a record $500 million investment to save the Great Barrier Reef, but some experts say it’s too late for some areas already severely damaged by the impacts of climate change.

The rescue package comes after parts of the ailing reef were hit by two consecutive years of a major coral bleaching event linked to climate change in 2016 and 2017, coupled with the destruction wrought by a recent outbreak of coral-eating crown of thorns starfish.

The funding includes measures to improve water quality by encouraging better farming practices, scientific research towards reef restoration and building more resilient coral by tackling the coral-eating corn of thorns starfish.

A University of Sydney marine biology professor, Maria Byrne, says the funding measures are welcome, especially for those areas of the reef heavily dependent on the tourism market.

But she said no amount of money could bring back those northern reefs that were impacted by the 2016 and 2017 mass bleaching event.

“For instance, the reefs around Lizard Island, 90 per cent of those reefs are gone," Professor Byrne told SBS News.

“No money put at those reefs is going to reinstate those in the next while."

An underwater photographer documents an expanse of dead coral at Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
An underwater photographer documents an expanse of dead coral at Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier 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.

And in order to save the reef, the government must tackle the elephant in the room first: climate change, she added.

“You cannot protect the reef from puddles of warm water sitting over the entire northern GBR, together with all of the cyclones that came at the same time which were also climate-related.

“So sure this is a band-aid measure to try and keep those tourist reefs in good shape.”

The Wilderness Society criticised the government for supporting the Adani coal mine, accusing it of using the funding package as a “smokescreen to cover up years of inaction on climate change”.

“Prevention is far more effective and cheaper than the cure and in this case the government refuses to curb carbon pollution which is damaging the reef and refusing to curb deforestation which is muddying up the waters of the reef,” Climate Campaign Manager Glenn Walker told SBS News.

Rescue package brings hope

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg acknowledged the reef was facing a number of challenges.

“But these are important initiatives, we continue to invest heavily recognising that all Australians have an investment, have an interest, have a stake in the future health of the Reef.

Coral bleaching has devastated Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Coral bleaching has devastated Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

“That is why the announcement today is such a game-changer. It will secure the reef for future generations."

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which is partnering with the government on the rescue package, said it would bring hope to the reef’s future.

While the world worked on a plan to tackle climate change, these were practical measures to build the Reef’s resilience, Chairman John Schubert said.

“Today’s major investment brings real solutions within our grasp,” he said.

These funds represent an unequaled opportunity to create a legacy of hope for future generations.”

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