Climate change has so profoundly damaged the Great Barrier Reef in recent years that it will never be the same, a team of scientists declared earlier this month.
But huge investments are now being made to protect what’s still left.
On Sunday, the Australian government pledged $379 million to bolster the massive structure, according to the New York Times, the largest investment of its kind to date.
“We’ll be improving the monitoring of the reef’s health and the measurement of its impacts,” Australia’s Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg told the Times. “The more we understand about the reef, the better we can protect it.”
The bulk of this money will go toward improving water quality by curbing runoff that enters the reef’s waters, CNN reports.
Another chunk will go toward restoring the reef, including developing hardier coral in laboratories that can then be integrated into coral communities.
The rest of the investment will be spent on fighting a major coral predator, community engagement programs, and more active monitoring of reefs.
But there’s one glaring omission from this campaign, according to critics. The plan doesn’t tackle climate change, the single greatest threat facing the Great Barrier Reef.
Coral is highly sensitive to temperature increases and a 2 or 3 degree Celsius shift can trigger massive bleaching events that take more than a decade to recover from, according to the New York Times.
If reefs are hit with successive bleaching events, when corals expel color- and food-giving algae under extreme stress and turn a bone-white, then the damage sustained can be irrevocable.
And that’s what’s happening around the world as ocean temperatures rise from climate change. The Great Barrier Reef, in particular, was hit with two massive bleaching events in recent years.
“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,” said Bill McKibben, founder of the climate change group 350.org. “If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the reef, they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage.”
Heat stress from global warming (right) killed 30% of corals in 8 months (left). In the north, 50% died. Then it happened again in 2017.— Terry Hughes (@ProfTerryHughes) April 29, 2018
To save the #GreatBarrierReef, WE NEED TO TACKLE GLOBAL WARMING.https://t.co/YeW6ymNDokpic.twitter.com/m5GGgWWxS9
Losing the Great Barrier Reef would have a profound impact on the global environment and human society, according to UNESCO.
It’s home to more than 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish. It fosters vast ecosystems, providing food, shelter, and breeding grounds for thousands of marine creatures.
And it provides natural buffers for coastal communities, preventing waves from destroying shorelines. Meanwhile, the many types of fish swimming throughout their lattices, offer a ready supply of food for people.
Protecting the Great Barrier Reef is of great self-interest to Australia. It generates $6.4 billion in income annually and supports 64,000 jobs, the Times notes.
Now the country needs to take the next step by cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging others to do the same, according to 350.org.
Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call on countries to reduce their emissions. You can take action on this issue here.