The Australian government will channel $700 million (AUD 1 billion) toward the protection and rehabilitation of the Great Barrier Reef. The announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison came on Friday, just a few days before UNESCO’s February 1 deadline requiring Australia to provide a detailed reef conservation report.

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In July, the reef narrowly escaped being placed on UNESCO’s danger list due to climate change threats. UNESCO allowed the Australian government more time to enact reef protection measures and submit a report. Failure to act would lead to the reef being delisted as a World Heritage site, among other consequences.

Related: Coral reef collapse could be coming to the Indian Ocean

“We are backing the health of the reef and the economic future of tourism operators, hospitality providers and Queensland communities that are at the heart of the reef economy,” Morrison said in a statement.

The funds will help finance a roughly decade-long program to improve reef health. Key areas of concern include water quality management, protection of important species and biodiversity, among others.

While the Australian government has pledged its largest-ever amount for reef protection and conservation, questions still abound. Action only came after sufficient pressure from public figures and environmental groups. On July 13, public figures wrote a joint letter urging global leaders to act fast to save the Great Barrier Reef.

“We urge the world’s major emitters to undertake the most ambitious climate action under the Paris Agreement,” the letter read. “There is still time to save the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia and the world must act now.” 

People have also questioned the announcement’s timing. In May, Australia will have a general election. Many think the recent move is a campaign strategy. The Australian Climate Council also criticized the announcement, saying that just funding the reef is not an adequate solution.

“Unless you are cutting emissions deeply this decade the situation on the Reef will only get worse,” said Professor Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University.

The Great Barrier Reef remains the world’s largest reef, covering approximately 133,000 square miles. The reef is home to about 1,500 types of fish and over 400 types of coral. Over the past decades, the climate crisis has devastated the reef’s health. A study published in October 2020 shows that the reef has lost up to 50% of its coral population in the last three decades.


Lead image via Pexels