Australia has accelerated its support for protecting the decline of vulnerable species and addressing global warming, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announcing billions of dollars more to preserve the Great Barrier Reef and koala habitat.
The new $1 billion injection into the health of the reef will be utilised over the next nine years, Morrison revealed.
More than half of the funds are expected to be dedicated to preventing land erosion and reducing the number of harmful pesticides entering the ocean — two moves that are expected to improve the reef's water quality. The remaining funds will centre around reef management, conservation, research and species protection.
"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.”
Australia has now pledged over $3 billion to protect the reef over the next 30 years.
One day after Morrison announced the latest reef funds, a further $50 million was pledged to allow the "best researchers, land managers, veterinarians and citizen scientists" to be brought together to address the long-term protection of koalas.
"Our $50 million investment will enhance the protection of koalas by restoring koala habitat, improving our understanding of koala populations, supporting training in koala treatment and care and strengthening research into koala health outcomes,” Morrison said. “Koalas are one of Australia’s most loved and best-recognised icons, both here at home and across the world, and we are committed to protecting them for generations to come.”
The population of Australia's beloved marsupials and the reef's health have been declining for some time.
A recent report revealed the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, has lost half of its coral populations in the last quarter-century, with scientists blaming climate change-induced rising sea temperatures — which has caused a series of mass bleaching events — as the primary driver of coral decline.
On Thursday, Greenpeace Australia criticised the government, calling its approach to protection "the height of hypocrisy."
"If the Morrison Government were genuine about its commitment to protecting the reef, it would act on climate change, the number one driver of its decline, instead of playing political games and dreaming up band-aid solutions to the climate crisis facing the reef," the organisation said in a statement.
The health of the koala populations in parts of New South Wales has endured a similar fate.
A University of Sydney report showed rising global temperatures and droughts had caused an increase in the number of koalas falling to the ground due to dry tree leaves. A separate study by the World Wildlife Fund estimates over 60,000 koalas were killed or negatively impacted by the nation's 2019 and 2020 bushfire season.
The extreme 2020 fires are now widely considered to have been fuelled, in part, by the effects of climate change.