By Alison Bevege
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian Great Barrier Reef receives $ 500 million ($ 379.10 million) in new funds to restore water quality and protect coral from starfish attacks, government ministers announced on Sunday at.
Energy Secretary Josh Frydenberg said in a television interview that part of the money would go directly to the farmers to change their practices, "to ensure that the reef does not drain off the large amounts of sediment, nitrogen and pesticide can be so harmful for coral and which helps to grow this crowned crown starfish. "
The Great Barrier Reef, seen from outer space, covers 348,000 square kilometers and was added to the World Heritage in 1981 as the world's most spectacular coral reef the website of UNESCO.
UNESCO considered putting it on the "Danger" list last year because of recent widespread destruction, but voted against and allowed the conservative Australian government to avoid political embarrassment and potential damage to the country's tourism industry.
A large burst of coral-eating spiny-crown thorns destroyed areas of World Heritage listed reef, causing a major killing in January. The robber starfish feeds on corals by spreading his stomach over them and using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissues. Rural runoff of cane farms and cattle sheds has also damaged the section of reef closest to the shore, according to Bradley Opdike, a marine scientist at the Australian National University.
"What happens to the sediment is that it only stifles it, while higher nutrients cause algae to outperform the coral," he told Reuters on Sunday.
While the funding announcement was welcomed by scientists, some were skeptical as to whether it would actually help.
Jon Brodie, a professor at the Coral Reef Studies Center of Excellence at James Cook University, said funding was an extension of existing failed programs.
"It does not work, it does not bring any significant improvements in water quality," he told Reuters over the phone on Sunday.
Secretary of State Julie Bishop, however, said that Australia was a leader in the management and protection of its reefs, as the government's Reef 2050 Plan was recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as the standard for the rest of the world.
"They are looking to Australia to provide the technical expertise for scientific research and to enable coral reef best practice management," she told reporters on Sunday from Cairns on the east coast of Australia.
($ 1 = 1.3189 australian dollars)
(report by alison bevege)