Tech & Science Government's $500m Great Barrier Reef package may have limited impact amid climate change

04:00  04 june  2018
04:00  04 june  2018 Source:

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- The government will partner with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in a 4m agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change .

The Federal Government ' s $ 500 million package for the Great Barrier Reef will help tackle local problems like water quality. But without climate action, questions are being asked about whether the windfall will save the reef .

Coral bleaching is caused by higher than normal water temperatures.© Provided by ABC News Coral bleaching is caused by higher than normal water temperatures. At the end of April a $500 million package to help the Great Barrier Reef was announced by the Federal Government.

It didn't take long for questions to be raised about the decision to give $444 million in funding to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a small charity with a revenue of only $8 million in 2016.

The funding will be split between improving water quality, supporting reef restoration science, increasing crown-of-thorns starfish control, community engagement and reef monitoring.

But there is no acknowledgement of what scientists argue is the biggest threat facing the reef: climate change.

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The government will partner with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in a 4m agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change .

The government will partner with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in a 4m agreement to tackle crown-of-thorns starfish, reduce pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change .

Without climate action, can this package actually do anything to help the reef?

The answer is no, according to many involved in reef research, management and conservation, including University of Queensland coral biologist Sophie Dove.

"Unless we mitigate the CO2, a lot of the other solutions such as cleaning the water and removing crown of thorns are somewhat immaterial," Dr Dove said.

"All of those things can assist in helping any coral reefs that remain to survive and prosper in the future — but without climate mitigation, I think that's an issue."

Local reef actions must be met halfway

While the funding is a step forward for addressing local pressures on the reef like water quality, it must go hand in hand with national and global emissions reductions, according to Russell Reichelt from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

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THE Great Barrier Reef stretches some 2,300 km down Australia’ s north-east coast, covering an But experts agree that the biggest culprit is warmer ocean temperatures linked to climate change . The Australian and Queensland state governments responded with a plan aimed at improving the local

Since the referral, the Turnbull government has announced its $ 500 m rescue package for the reef in this month’ s budget, including 1m to deal with water quality. Budget earmarks $ 500 m to mitigate Great Barrier Reef climate change .

"We're very clear that it is absolutely critical to achieve action globally on climate change, but we're focused on what we can do as the Marine Park Authority in the local region," he said.

The funding was not designed to work on its own, said Dr Reichelt, who chairs the GBRMPA.

"The real solution in the long run is to address rising greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere," he said.

"But we're still left with things that will happen inevitably now, because of the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. So there was never a greater imperative that we look for ways to relieve local pressures."

However, some scientists have expressed concern that the funding is targeting some local measures that have not yet been proven effective.

Research fellow Jon Brodie from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies wrote in The Conversation that "one concern with the package is that it seems to give greatest weight to the strategies that are already being tried — and which have so far fallen a long way short of success".

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Clownfish, blue tang and sea turtle at Great Barrier Reef . The reef bleached in 2016 and 2017. Photograph: Jeff Hunter/Getty Images. The Labor opposition said the additional resources were “good as far as they go” but without proper action on climate change “it’ s clear this government has

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Reef already changed by warming

Across the entire Great Barrier Reef 30 per cent of corals died after the 2016 bleaching event. In the northern third of the reef, where up to 50 per cent of shallow water corals were lost, some corals actually "cooked" because the underwater heatwave was so severe.

The government is avoiding dealing with the root cause of this, which is climate change, said Great Barrier Reef campaigner Imogen Zeethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"I wake up at night thinking, what will it take for this Government to respond effectively, if losing 50 per cent of the shallow water corals on the reef isn't enough?" she said.

"They can invest $500 million over six years, but if they do nothing about climate change then it will all be wasted in the end."

Coral ecosystems have already been radically transformed by climate change.

The loss of corals due to the 2016 bleaching has forced some northern reefs to transition to new compositions of corals with less diversity — dominated by slow-growing species with more simple physical structures.

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Frydenberg said: “The Turnbull government is firmly committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef for future generations and delivering the Reef 2050 plan. “The government has been clear from the outset that the Paris Climate Agreement is the place to deal with climate change .”

Climate Ark 2018-06-03 17:28. Australian Broadcasting Corporation: But there is no acknowledgement of what scientists argue is the biggest threat facing the reef : climate change . Without climate action, can. Source.

And scientists have already documented changes in reef fish diversity as a result of the coral loss.

New funding is still critical

Echoing these sentiments, CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Paul Hardisty said the $500 million was a good start, but emissions also needed to be addressed.

"On the business-as-usual trajectory … in a few decades there won't be any reefs, or at least reefs as we know them today," Dr Hardisty said.

"If you don't get greenhouse gas emissions under control then no amount of money is any use."

But Dr Hardisty said that didn't mean we should stop funding other local reef protection measures.

"We're past the point where we can say that getting emissions under control will be enough," he said.

"To have healthy reefs that provide trillions of dollars in ecosystem services to humans every year, then you've got to do both, there isn't another option."

By relieving other pressures on the reef such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish, the reefs of the future will have a better shot at surviving — no matter that form they take.

So where is the simultaneous climate action?

Spending on climate issues was cut in the 2018 budget from $3 billion to $1.6 billion in 2019, and it will be reduced further to $1.25 billion by 2022.

On top of that, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has an emissions reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, which reef campaigner Imogen Zeethoven said was insufficient.

"A 26 per cent reduction, as proposed by the NEG, matched by all the countries in the world would result in all coral reefs in the world dying," Ms Zeethoven said.

"They need to dramatically upscale their emissions reduction target to match the funding investment that they're putting into the reef."

Dr Reichelt said that advocating for both global and local solutions for the reef was like walking a tightrope.

He said it was a balance between "making sure people understand the underlying cause and the need for global action, as well as not giving up on the reef locally".

"If the reef does survive until the end of the century we'll have a better, more diverse coral reef if we take all these local actions now," he said.

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