The federal government has committed a record $500 million to save the Great Barrier Reef by breeding resilient coral.
The funding, announced on Sunday ahead of the May budget, is targeted at reducing fertiliser use to minimise agricultural run-off and improve water quality. It also aims to ramp up the fight against coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, and breed coral that is more resistant to high temperatures and light stress.
But conservationist group Greenpeace said the investment was a “band-aid” solution to climate change-driven destruction at the World Heritage site.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s statement on Sunday said 64,000 jobs were tied to the Reef’s survival, adding $6.4 billion to Queensland and Australian economies each year.
The announcement comes just weeks after a study, published in Nature journal, found 29 per cent of reefs lost two-thirds or more of their corals in a ‘catastrophic’ marine heatwave in 2016.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific Climate and Energy Campaigner, Nikola Casule, said the Reef’s destruction could be pinned on fossil fuels.
“You can have coral or coal. You can’t have both,” Ms Casule said in a Greenpeace statement on Sunday.
“Not only does this funding continue to focus on peripheral issues without tackling the real problem, it also ignores the fact that if we continue to roll out the red carpet to projects like the Adani Carmichael mega-mine, it won’t matter how much money the government sets aside – the waters will continue to warm.”
She said the government needed to commit to a credible science-based plan to tackle climate change.
Labor said the government needed to tackle climate change, and described the emissions reduction target as “weak”. The opposition said the government could still fail to reach its target to reduce emissions 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
John Schubert, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, said he was “thrilled” by the announcement.
“Today’s investment brings real hope to the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr Schubert said.
He said there was no doubt climate change had put the Reef under threat, but said there were tangible things Australia could do to build its resilience.
“We must improve water quality. We must address crown-of-thorns-starfish outbreaks. We must ensure our reef managers and scientists are better equipped to manage and monitor our reefs, working smarter than ever before. And we must unlock new scientific insights that can help restore the reefs that have suffered damage,” Dr Schubert said.
“Today’s major investment brings real solutions within our grasp. These funds represent an unequalled opportunity to create a legacy of hope for future generations.”
“I have great optimism that together we will protect this amazing icon and all its brilliant biodiversity.”
The government, in a partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, will contribute $444 million.
Of that, $201 million will go towards improving water quality by changing farming practices; $100 million for Reef restoration, and encouraging resilience and adaptation; $58 million expanding the fight against coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish; increasing community engagement with $45 million, and; $40 million to enhance health monitoring.
A further $56 million will bolster the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Department of Environment and Energy to expand management and compliance operations.
The Authority’s future funding has also been secured with an additional $10 million in annual funding from 2022-23. It builds on the joint $2 billion Australian and Queensland Reef 2050 plan.
In 2016, Labor also pledged $500 million of funding over five years towards the Reef if elected.
Fairfax Media last week reported federal government funding to stop declining water quality on the Reef had dropped more than $11 million a year.