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Is $18 Million In New Funds To Save Great Barrier Reef Too Little, Too Late?

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Researchers have revealed that changes in temperature since 2016 have promptly affected about 900 miles of corals on the Great Barrier Reef. Add to this what experts fear is another major bleaching event for the embattled reef this year.

Now, the federal government of Australia announced $18 million in funding for six new projects meant to protect the reef. For a water quality expert, however, it could be too little, too late for the world heritage site’s salvation.

Water Quality Management Not Enough

The new funding initiatives belong to an ongoing water quality enhancement program and seek to tackle erosion of stream banks as well as gullies – something responsible for 70 percent of the fine sediment runoff onto the famed reef, according to Australian environment minister Josh Frydenberg.

Terrestrial runoff such as nutrients and pesticides from farms translates to major damage to corals as well as sea grass. They also have a share in outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish in the area.

For Frydenberg, the efforts are part of protecting the reef, to which water quality expert and James Cook University’s Jon Brodie said $18 million is rather small and won’t make a real dent in the reef’s current problems.

“It’s good, but it’s all a bit little too late,” he said in an SBS report, saying that while water quality management will garner short-term wins, it matters to manage climate change in the long run.

The government-based Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce estimated that it could take $8.2 billion to achieve water quality targets by 2025.

Grim Prospects For The Reef

Based on recent aerial surveys, mass coral bleaching affected two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef for a second time in just a year. Fearing high coral mortality in the reef’s central portion, Australian authorities said that severe bleaching episodes in 2016 and this year only left the reef’s southern third undamaged.

Coral bleaching takes place when heat stress prompts corals to release small, colorful algae from their insides, which turn them white. Recovery is possible with a drop in temperature and the algae’s return, but sustained bleaching can lead to eventual death.

Brodie, who has devoted much of his professional life to water quality on the reef, even told the Guardian that the celebrated piece of nature is already in a “terminal stage,” and that they have failed despite spending “a lot of money.”

The researcher deemed 2016 as a bad enough year for the reef but thought 2017 is a “disaster year” just the same.

"The federal government is doing nothing really, and the current programs, the water quality management is having very limited success. It’s unsuccessful," he said.

Others, such as the reef’s Marine Park Authority’s former director Jon Day, choose to be optimistic.

“You’ve got to be optimistic, I think we have to be,” he said, alongside criticizing the federal government’s approach to fishing, farming-caused run-off and pollution, and other practices destructive to the reef.

He believes, though, that insufficient amounts are being spent to address the problem.

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