Australia announces billion-dollar package to protect the Great Barrier Reef

A recent study found that bleaching has affected 98 percent of the reef since 1998 (File)

Sydney:

Australia on Friday unveiled a billion-dollar package to protect the climate-hit Great Barrier Reef, which is expected to prevent a vast network of corals from being removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a nine-year plan months after the reef was narrowly left to be placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list.

“We are supporting the economic future of the Reef’s health and tourism operators, hospitality providers and Queensland communities who are at the heart of the reef economy,” Morrison said.

The move comes ahead of the May general election, when Morrison must win key Queensland seats near the Reef to remain in power.

When the United Nations previously threatened to downgrade the reef’s World Heritage List in 2015, Australia created a “Reef 2050” plan and poured billions of dollars into protection.

The measures are believed to have halted the pace of decline, but the world’s largest reef system has already been damaged.

A recent study found that bleaching has affected 98 percent of the reef since 1998, leaving only a small portion of it untouched.

The Morrison government’s support for coal and reluctance to tackle climate change has seen the party garner support in major cities and prompted the emergence of a range of electoral challenges from climate-focused independents.

Australians are in favor of action to limit climate change, which has experienced a string of global warming-worsening disasters such as bushfires, droughts and floods.

A 2021 survey by Sydney’s Lowy Institute found that 60 percent of Australians believed “global warming is a serious and serious problem”.

Eight in 10 Australians supported a net-zero emissions target by 2050, which the government reluctantly adopted last year ahead of a historic UN climate summit in Scotland.

One of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas, Australia’s economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Its political parties also receive significant funding from donors associated with coal and gas.

‘Band-Aid on a broken leg’

The Climate Council’s pressure group said this latest package of funding was like “putting a band-aid on a broken leg”.

“Unless you’re cutting emissions deeply this decade, the situation at the reef will only get worse,” said Council’s Leslie Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University.

“While handing over a hand of cash to the Great Barrier Reef, while the very industry – fossil fuels – that is driving catastrophic climate impacts like marine heatwaves and coral bleaching, means they are compounding the same problem they are claiming. that they want to fix.”

Bleaching occurs when healthy corals become stressed by spikes in ocean temperatures, causing them to expel the algae that live in their tissues, leaving their vibrant colors.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered three massive bleaching events during heatwaves in 2016, 2017 and 2020, leaving many affected corals struggling to survive.

Much of the government’s latest package will be spent on preventing agricultural runoff from polluting the damaging reef.

About a quarter of the money will be sent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority “to reduce threats from thorn-crowned starfish,” which eat coral.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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