Budget earmarks $500m to mitigate Great Barrier Reef climate change

The money will help try to save the reef from crown-of-thorns starfish and reduce pollution, Malcolm Turnbull to announce

The Turnbull government will allocate $500m to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

The funding, to be unveiled on Sunday and confirmed in the May budget, follows a recent study finding that 30% of the reef’s corals died in a catastrophic nine-month marine heatwave in 2016.

The government will partner with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in a $444m agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The government will increase funding for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of the Environment and Energy by $56m to expand environmental management and compliance operations.

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Both of the major parties are currently focused on winning hearts and minds in Queensland, with the state’s marginal seats likely to determine the outcome of the next federal election.

The Coalition has been criticised by environment groups for not acting fast enough to protect the reef, and the government’s support for the Adani coalmine has also been controversial both locally and nationally because of its potential impact on the reef.

In January Guardian Australia revealed that millions of dollars of commonwealth money was being handed to tourism-linked groups for reef protection, despite official advice recommending against the projects, or repeatedly finding them to be failing.

Earlier this year, the head of the United Nations environment program warned the battle to save the world’s coral reefs was at “make-or-break point”. Erik Solheim said governments needed to intensify concrete actions including limiting greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and impacts from agriculture.

In a statement issued in advance of Sunday’s announcement, the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new funding was an investment in the health of the reef and the tourism jobs dependent on it.

“Like reefs all over the world, the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure,” Turnbull said. “A big challenge demands a big investment – and this investment gives our reef the best chance.”

Turnbull said the reef restoration science associated with the funding would be shared internationally and with Pacific neighbours.

“As a highly respected philanthropic organisation, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has a strong fundraising track record, and will seek corporate contributions to further enhance this work,” the prime minister said.

The funding package includes $201m for improving water quality with changed farming practices such as reduced fertiliser use, $100m for reef restoration science, $58m to combat the crown-of-thorns starfish, $45m for community engagement, including drawing on Indigenous traditional knowledge for sea country management, and $40m for monitoring reef health.

The study on coral mass mortality, published in Nature and led by Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – published in April – examined the link between the level of heat exposure, subsequent coral bleaching and ultimately coral death.

It found that 29% of the 3,863 reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef lost two-thirds or more of their corals. It said “initially, at the peak of temperature extremes in March 2016, many millions of corals died quickly in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef over a period of only two to three weeks”.

“These widespread losses were not due to the attrition of corals that slowly starved because they failed to regain their symbionts. Rather, temperature-sensitive species of corals began to die almost immediately in locations that were exposed to heat stress.”


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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