Sustainability Climate Change

Australia pledges $700 million to protect Great Barrier Reef threatened by climate change

The Associated Press/J. Sumerling

Story at a glance

  • The conservation plan includes investments in new climate adaptation technology, water quality programs and the protection of key species and habitat restoration.
  • On top of the conservation efforts, Morrison emphasized the government’s commitment to protect some 64,000 jobs and the tourism industry that depends on the reef.
  • The move comes just days before the Australian government is due to send a report detailing the state of conservation of the vast reef to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

Australian leaders on Friday pledged more than $700 million to help protect the Great Barrier Reef, as the world’s largest coral reef system has recently suffered several mass bleaching events that have killed a substantial amount of its inshore coral.  

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a nine-year conservation spending plan that includes the deployment of new climate adaptation technology, water quality programs and the protection of key species and habitat restoration.  

On top of the conservation efforts, Morrison emphasized the government’s commitment to protect some 64,000 jobs and the tourism industry that depends on the reef.  

“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 

“This is already the best managed reef in the world and today we take our commitment to a new level,” he added.  


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The prime minister said the new spending package extends the government’s conservation investment under the Reef 2050 Plan to more than $2 billion.  

The move comes just days before the Australian government is due to send a report detailing the state of conservation of the vast reef to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. The report is expected to outline protective measures the nation is taking to ensure the stretch of more than 1,400 miles of coral reef off the coast of Queensland is preserved.  

Last summer, UNESCO issued a draft decision recommending the Great Barrier Reef be placed on the list of World Heritage sites considered to be “in danger,” due to significant bleaching caused by warming ocean waters since 2016.  

“There is no possible doubt that the property is facing ascertained danger,” the report said 

The potential downgrade of the reef’s World Heritage state threatened Australia’s tourism industry, and Australia strongly opposed the listing, arguing the nation has made major investments in conservation, and the move by the committee was a deviation from the normal process of assessing the status of World Heritage sites.  

“The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world and this draft recommendation has been made without examining the Reef first hand, and without the latest information,” Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said in June 

In July, the committee decided against changing the reef’s designation but requested a report on conservation efforts, due by February 2022.  

Coral bleaching, which is caused by underwater heatwaves, may very well be one of the most visible effects of climate change. The massive reef system has lost half of its coral populations in the last three decades, as the frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves that drive coral bleaching are increasing.  

Three mass bleaching events occurred in 2016, 2017 and 2020 during heatwaves.  


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