$60 million reef funding ‘will make little difference’

It didn’t take long. On Monday the Federal Government made a big deal out of investing $60 million over 18 months to “set in motion” a major research and development program for the restoration of the Great Barrier Reef.

Within 24 hours the plan was attacked by environmentalists, marine scientists and the Greens as too little, too late, as window dressing, and for failing to even mention the main cause of the reef’s problems – climate change.

First – what was announced?

  • $10.4 million for an “all-out assault” on coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. This will allow the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to increase the number of vessels targeting starfish from three to eight.
  • $36.6 million to further reduce pollution from water entering the Reef. “This builds on our success with farmers reducing soil erosion, improving on-farm nutrient management and restoring coastal and riparian vegetation in the Reef catchments.”
  • $4.9 million to put more field officers on the water, improving compliance, and providing early warning of further bleaching and delivering more reef and island management interventions.

“For the first time The Commonwealth will bring together key agencies to explore ways the Reef can best adapt to the changing environment to protect it for decades to come,” said the announcement.

“As a critical national asset, the Reef protects Queensland’s coastal infrastructure, supports 64,000 jobs and provides $6.4 billion a year to the economy.”

It also mentioned the Reef 2050 Plan, a $2 billion commitment announced in 2015 by the Federal and Queensland Governments as an “overarching framework” for protecting and managing the Reef until 2050,

It was also tied in with one of the Government’s other hot button, science and innovation. “The specific science focus of the R&D funding is part of the Government’s broader focus on science, innovation and jobs and the central role they will play now and into the future. Innovation and science are key to future employment opportunities for Australians.”

All worthy objectives – but not enough for the critics.

The program to attack the crown-of-thorns starfish will spend more money on a program that has already been found to have been ineffective, said Dr Jon Brodie, a professorial fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

Even before the increased funding was announced, the crown-of-thorns program was under attack. Fairfax Media recently reported on research that found that the starfish infestations occurred in natural cycles, and that attempting to eradicate them one by one was not a viable solution.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) haves welcomed the funding boost but said the biggest problem the Reef faces was climate change, any mention of which was conspicuously absent from the Government’s announcement.

“These methods will need to go hand in hand with greenhouse gas mitigation and conventional management” such as no-fish zones, said Paul Hardisty, AIMS CEO.

“Boosting the Great Barrier Reef’s resilience so it can withstand the increasing pressures from climate change and other threats is more critical than ever,” said GBRMPA Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt.

Predictably, the Greens were even more critical. Queensland Greens Senator Andrew Bartlett said the announcement was a “wasteful publicity stunt” designed to deflect attention from the main problems facing the Reef.

“The real beneficiaries of this blatant publicity stunt are the fossil fuel giants and their Liberal Party mates, who will continue to go about their business as usual — certainly not the Reef or the public, who are footing million-dollar bills for wasteful projects that are doomed to fail,” the Cairns Post reported him as saying.


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