It is no secret that the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure. Cyclone Debbie, successive bleaching events and the insidious impact of the crown-of-thorns starfish have all taken its toll.
But the Reef is remarkably resilient and with the right plan and the right investment, it will overcome these challenges and be enjoyed by future generations to come.
This is why the Turnbull Government’s announcement today of an additional $500 million for the Reef is so important. Our contribution, through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, represents the single largest funding commitment ever for reef conservation and management in Australia’s history.
It offers a unique opportunity to leverage further investment from the private sector and other philanthropic organisations. It also builds on the $2 billion Reef 2050 Plan already put in place by the Federal Coalition Government and the Queensland State Government. Significantly, the Reef 2050 Plan has received significant praise from the United Nation’s World Heritage Committee.
This new funding will be directed towards three key objectives.
First, improving water quality. Better fertiliser management, farming practices and adoption of new technology for irrigation and gully remediation will be the focus. In doing so, the nitrogen load and sediment run off can be reduced. This will stymie the spread of the crown-of-thorns starfish, a natural predator of coral and responsible for widespread coral loss in the past three years.
These measures will complement an expansion of the crown-of-thorns starfish culling program which already involves three fulltime vessels and teams of up to ten divers working all year round.
Second, greater monitoring of the Reef’s health and measurement of its impacts. The more we understand about the Reef, the better we can protect it. Predictive modelling, real time data and expansion of the science program – for example, around coral and seagrass distribution – can be used to great effect.
Again, the Commonwealth is already heavily investing in citizen science and other collaborative projects through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s “Eye of the Reef” program and the “eReef” program conducted by the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. This new money will augment existing work.
Third, a significant expansion in Reef restoration and long-term adaptation. New techniques will be trialled, breeding corals resilient to high temperatures and light stress. The deployment of new reef structures to support coral growth and the acceleration of scientific work around coral spawning and its benefits will also be undertaken.
The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder of the world, supporting tens of thousands of jobs through Queensland. It’s an environmental asset in which all Australians have a stake and today’s announcement by the Turnbull Government of $500 million in new funding will help secure its future.
Josh Frydenberg is the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy.