Australia Just Announced Its Biggest Ever Plan to Save the Great Barrier Reef. But Environmentalists Aren’t Impressed

April 30, 2018, 10:57 AM UTC

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and the only living thing that’s visible from space. Unfortunately, it’s also being hugely damaged by climate change.

To counteract this, the Australian government has announced its largest-ever investment in the coral reef: over half a billion Australian dollars ($378 million). However, environmentalists say the government is being hypocritical, as it continues to support the fossil fuel industry.

“We want to ensure the Reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the Reef,” the government said in a Sunday statement.

Indeed, 64,000 jobs depend on the reef, mostly derived from tourism, but also fishing and science.

The Great Barrier Reef’s big problem is rising sea temperatures. Not only do warmer waters cause bleaching of the living coral polyps that make up the mass, by leading them to expel the algae that give them color, but they have also led to an explosion in the numbers of a creature called the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Crown-of-thorns starfish eat tons of coral and there have been big outbreaks recently, so it’s no surprise that the Australian government sees dealing with them as a big priority.

The government said it was setting up a 444 million Australian dollar partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a charity. The deal will put 58 million Australian dollars into fighting the starfish, with the rest going to improving water quality, funding research into reef restoration, and monitoring damage to the reef.

However, environmentalists have highlighted the fact that Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal Party government remains very keen on burning fossil fuels—a primary cause of global warming.

“If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the Reef they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage,” said Bill McKibben, the American founder of anti-climate-change group

McKibben noted that the government is also backing a new coal mine in Central Queensland. “To simultaneously promote Adani’s coal mine, which would be one of the world’s largest, pretending to care about the world’s largest Reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt,” he said.