Australia’s government has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars toward protecting the Great Barrier Reef, in what’s being called the largest single investment in the embattled ecosystem ever.
The administration of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Sunday it is earmarking more than AU$500 million, or $379 million in U.S. dollars, to protect the reef in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The reef has lost a large percentage of its coral in recent decades due to a variety of environmental stresses.
The funds will go toward combating water pollution, predatory coral-eating starfish, increasing public awareness and reef monitoring, as well as modifying surrounding businesses so that they are more environmentally sound, Turnbull’s office said.
“Our contribution, through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, represents the single largest funding commitment ever for reef conservation and management in Australia’s history,” Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s environment and energy minister, said in an op-ed that stressed that “the right plan and the right investment” will ensure the reef’s survival.
Some environmentalists fear, however, that the action doesn’t target the real issue at hand: global warming.
The world’s largest coral reef, spanning 133,000 square miles, has endured extreme environmental strain in recent years, to the point that a fake obituary that was written for it in 2016 went viral.
Coral bleaching caused by warming water temperatures has already destroyed nearly 30 percent of the reefs, according to one recent study.
Crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat coral, have also been blamed for a large percentage of the decline in coral cover between 1985 and 2012, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Although some fear that much of the damage cannot be undone, John Schubert, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, believes that the government’s attention gives the reef “real hope.”
“Today’s major investment brings real solutions within our grasp. These funds represent an unequalled opportunity to create a legacy of hope for future generations,” Schubert said in a statement.
But it’s not just local efforts that are needed, Schubert stressed.
Schubert pointed to governments’ ongoing commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as a major requirement for ensuring the reef’s survival.
President Donald Trump in 2017 announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the historic agreement.
Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, also stressed that climate change and the use of fossil fuels are the major cause of the reef’s destruction.
“We need real action to ditch coal & shift to clean energy,” she tweeted.
Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist who founded the global grassroots climate movement 350.org, also criticized Australia’s use of coal.
“Science is well aware of what is killing coral on the Great Barrier Reef — it’s the excess heat that comes from burning fossil fuels,” he told The New York Times. “If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the reef, they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage.”