The Australian government has announced a new $60 million rescue package to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. This might sound great in principle, but many have criticized the move as simply a publicity stunt designed to distract people from the government’s terrible record on tackling climate change.
The new plans were unveiled by the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Senator Michaelia Cash, as the reef is expected to enter an unprecedented third bleaching event in the same number of years. The money is going to be split a number of ways, with the majority – $36.6 million – going towards farmers along Queensland's coast to prevent agricultural runoff and pollution.
A further $10 million will be spent on an “all-out assault” on the crown-of-thorns starfish that are decimating the coral, $4.9 million on increasing the number of boats and people fighting the starfish, and $6 million will go towards a coral restoration program.
The government is claiming that the bump in funding shows their commitment to protecting the reef, with Senator Cash going on to say: “The Great Barrier Reef is a critical national asset – we want to ensure its future for the benefits of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on the reef.”
“This is all about investing in the future of the reef itself – this is all about looking at how technology can assist us in terms of new ways to help the reef adapt and recover,” she continued.
But this is at odds with what the science is saying. The bulk of the money is going towards farmers to prevent agricultural runoff into local rivers, where the nutrients and fertilizers can wash into the sea and over the reef. This stresses the coral to such a degree that when the waters start to warm, it is more likely to bleach and die.
This has meant that over the last few years, a lot of effort – and money – has already been put into preventing runoff and improving the quality of the water. Yet a comprehensive study from last year showed that while these efforts have contributed to the Great Barrier Reef being one of the best-managed reefs in the world, they are pretty useless and ineffective if nothing is done to tackle the elephant in the room: climate change.
Ocean warming is by far the biggest threat to the reef, yet rather than putting the $36.6 million into sustainable energy and technology, or bumping up the budget for coral research, instead, it's being directed towards farmers who were already allocated $50 million to prevent agricultural runoff in April 2016.
Not to mention the fact that the government is still backing the controversial Adani coal mine that is hoping to open just a stone's throw from the reef itself.