Australian govt unveils reef protection plan


Photo: 123rf

The Australian government has announced a $A60m plan to help improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The reef suffered mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, which scientists said were a result of warmer ocean temperatures.

It has also endured damage from crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclones.

The new money, to be spent in four ways, will particularly target starfish and soil erosion.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said there was a “strong link” between the coral-eating species and run-off from water pollution.

“While [the reef] is facing increasing threats, we intend to remain leaders in reef management,” he said.

The new measures include spending:

  • $A36m on farmers to restore vegetation around reef catchments, offsetting erosion;
  • $A10m for an “all-out assault” on crown-of-thorns starfish by increasing culling vessels;
  • $A6m on science agencies to develop ways to make coral more “resilient”;
  • $A4m to employ more field officers to warn about bleaching.

It is part of a commitment by federal and state governments to spend $A2bn on improving the reef over the next decade.

“We want to ensure its future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” the government said in a statement on Monday.

However, some environmental groups criticised the package for not focusing more on climate change.

“[This] is the kind of tinkering around the edges approach that has failed in the past and does nothing to address the cause of devastating coral bleaching”, Greenpeace said in a statement.

Others reiterated their opposition to a proposed coal mine, which they say would further damage the reef.

But Mr Turnbull dismissed what he called “doomsaying” on the issue, telling reporters on Monday that it was important to “take up this challenge positively”.

The reef, located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, spans an area of 344,400 sq km and is the largest living structure on Earth.

The UN says it is the “most biodiverse” of all the World Heritage sites, and of “enormous scientific and intrinsic importance”.

– BBC