Australia said it would spend 1 billion. USD ($ 700 million) on new protection measures for the Great Barrier Reef, seven months after the UN threatened to put the site on its “danger list” due to the damage caused by climate change and development.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition government has promised to improve water quality, crack down on illegal fishing and reduce the threat of an invasive starfish ahead of a federal election to be held on May 21.
Queensland, the state where the Great Barrier Reef is located, is crucial to the government’s re-election opportunities. Some districts, including Leichhardt, which includes Cairns, the gateway to the reef, are seen as potential sites for the Labor opposition party, and about 64,000 jobs are attached to the site.
Australia was involved last year in a battle with Unesco, which had planned to put the reef on its danger list to speed up action to protect the 2,300km-long living structure from climate change and development. Research has found that the reef’s ability to recover from damage caused by global warming has been severely compromised, triggering a crash in corals.
The government has successfully lobbied against the move, but the debate put the health of the reef in the global spotlight. Unesco inspectors must conduct regular site inspections to monitor for danger.
The government said the new investment would take its total cost of reef protection to A $ 3 billion. in 2050. The Labor Party pledged A $ 163m to protect the reef this month.
“We support the health of the reef and the economic future of tourism operators, hospitality providers and Queensland communities, which are at the heart of the reef’s economy,” Morrison said.
But the commitment has not soothed the concerns of environmentalists, who have long criticized the government over its climate change policies.
Terri Butler, shadow minister for the environment and water, said the plan was an admission that the government had not done enough to protect the reef. “They are not serious about acting on climate change, which means they are not serious about standing up for the reef,” she said.
Jodie Rummer, a marine biologist at James Cook University, said the government’s focus was inadequate because it overlooked climate change, which she described as the “number one” threat.
“It would be like you’re out for a massive car accident and you’re getting an arterial wound and you’re dripping blood out of your arteries and paramedics show up and they’ll put small patches on scratches and cuts that are on your foot, ”said Rummer, who studies the effects of climate change on the reef.
The Australian government has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November. But critics have argued that its environmental policies remain in line with the goals of the international climate treaties.
Rummer said that hot conditions, which she had not expected to see before 2050 or 2100, “happened now”. She added that mass incidents of coral bleaching as a result of three marine heat waves in the last five years had hit 98 percent of the reef.
Bleaching occurs when hot conditions force algae to detach from the coral, deprive it of its food source and eventually kill it.
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