ENVIRONMENT

Saving The Great Barrier Reef Will Cost $6.3 Billion

The Queensland government has agreed to recommendations that will help the reef survive climate change.
The Great Barrier Reef as seen from a NASA satellite.
The Great Barrier Reef as seen from a NASA satellite.

If the Great Barrier Reef is to have a chance of recovering from the worst-ever bleaching event and survive into the future, Australia must significantly improve water quality by reducing pollution and sedimentation.

The cost: $6.3 billion (8.2 billion Australian dollars) over the next decade.

That’s according to a lengthy report commissioned by the Queensland government. The cost estimate is more than 10 times what Australia state and federal governments currently spend, The Guardian reports. 

The majority of the expense ― $4.94 billion ― would go toward reducing by half the sediment runoff from the Fitzroy Basin, the largest river basin flowing into the Great Barrier Reef, by 2025. An additional $841 million would be required to reach that same 50 percent target in the Burdekin Basin, according to the report. 

By improving water quality, Australia hopes to give the Great Barrier Reef ― the largest living structure on Earth ― a better chance of surviving the impacts of climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system, is located off the coast of Queensland and extends more than 1,400 miles. It consists of some 3,000 individual reefs and includes more than 100 islands. 

But a warming climate is wreaking havoc on reefs around the planet.

The recent bleaching event, the “longest and most widespread” on record, affected more than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, killing more than one-third of its corals. Bleaching is a phenomenon in which stressed corals expel algae and turn white, often as a result of warming ocean temperatures. If not given time to recover, bleached corals can perish. 

The Queensland government has agreed in principle to all 10 recommendations laid out by the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Task Force report. The reef contributes an estimated $4.59 billion annually to the economy and supports around 70,000 jobs. 

“The recommendations set the stage for a bold new era of reform in water quality improvement and that is what we will deliver,” Steven Miles, Queensland’s environment minister, said in a statement. “We have agreed, or agreed in principle, to also review the reef water quality targets, better communicate how everyone can improve reef water quality, use incentives to drive water quality improvements, pursue targeted regulatory approaches, develop a strategic investment plan, and simplify and strengthen governance arrangements.”

In addition to cutting sediment loads in half, Australia has a goal of reducing nitrogen pollution by up to 80 percent. 

Sean Hoobin, a spokesman for World Wildlife Fund-Australia, applauded the Queensland government for commissioning the report, calling it “the most detailed and comprehensive assessment ever undertaken of what it will cost to save the reef.”

“This report confirms that the money committed so far by Australia falls far short of what’s required,” Hoobin said in a statement. “It’s simply good business to invest to save the jewel in the crown of Australia’s tourism industry.”

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