There has been a mixed response to Australia’s $700 million plan to combat water pollution on the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system.
The nine-year Australian plan promises to fund projects that reduce erosion and pesticides and fertilizers running off farmland into the sea. There will be other conservation efforts, including combating coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish and illegal fishing.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society has welcomed the initiative. It said that curbing pollution was essential to build the reef’s “resilience to climate change.”
Environment Minister Sussan Ley says the plan will help protect one of the country’s great natural treasures.
“This is an extraordinary investment in a reef. I don’t think there has ever been one as large anywhere in the world," said Ley. "The reef economy is worth 6.4 billion [Australian] dollars, there are 64,000 jobs that depend on the reef and if you live anywhere along one of our reef communities in Queensland, you know how important it is. So, it is also about COVID recovery because our tourism operators are waiting to show national and international tourists our beautiful Great Barrier Reef.”
However, other scientists have said that action to improve water quality will mean nothing if global carbon emissions are not reduced.
They have identified climate change as the major threat to the 344,400-square-kilometer ecosystem that stretches down Australia’s northeast coast. Warming ocean temperatures have caused widespread coral bleaching in recent years.
Under stress, the corals expel symbiotic algae, which live in their tissues, and give the corals their color and supply them with nutrients.
The reef narrowly avoided being listed as "in danger" by UNESCO last year amid concerns over its long-term health.
In October, a study by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, a United Nations-supported network of researchers, reported that about 14% of the world’s coral had been lost since 2009.
It found that reefs were among the world’s “most vulnerable ecosystems” to man-made threats, including climate change, overfishing and pollution.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef spans an area about the size of Japan.