The past few months have brought in a raft of news about the health of the iconic Great Barrier Reef — each one worse than the last. According to recent surveys, over 90 percent of the 1,400 mile structure has been affected by some level of coral bleaching — an event that occurs when corals, stressed by rising water temperature and acidity, expel the symbiotic algae living within their tissues. This bleaching event, which is the worst in the reef’s history, has killed 35 percent of its corals in the northern and central regions.
On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is under pressure for failing to do enough to protect the fragile ecosystem and is facing a tight re-election battle, announced the creation of a 1 billion Australian dollar ($740 million) fund to protect the reef.
The reef fund, which will finance, through debt and equity, clean energy projects across the reef’s catchment area, will be administered by the country’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and will be taken from its $10 billion special account.
“The Reef Fund will build on $461 million [figure in Australian dollars] in Reef funding already committed since the Coalition came into office,” Turnbull’s Liberal Party said in a statement. “The Reef Fund will provide up to $1 billion over 10 years in investment finance for projects in the Reef catchment region that deliver clean energy, reduce emissions and improve water quality. It will support clean energy projects that reduce runoff of pollutants, fertiliser and sediment.”
Over the past two years, corals in the Great Barrier Reef have been hit hard by the rise in sea temperatures triggered by human-induced climate change. This year is the third time in the past 18 years that the reef has experienced mass bleaching due to global warming, and the current one is more extreme than those recorded before.
“Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef and to all coral reefs around the world. Australia is playing its part in the global climate change effort through signing the Paris agreement and implementing policies to reduce Australia’s emissions,” Turnbull said at a news conference in Queensland Monday. “It [the reef] is an enormous economic driver here in north Queensland and it’s one that we are committed to protect for our children, grandchildren and many generations to come.”