$1b plan to save Great Barrier Reef will fail without climate change action, expert says

The Morrison government’s billion-dollar plan to save the Great Barrier Reef has been criticised by a scientist who says it will mean nothing if global carbon emissions are not reduced.

The nine-year plan announced today in Cairns is the biggest single investment ever made in the reef and will support the development of technology and water management practices.

It comes after the 344,400-square-kilometre ecosystem narrowly avoided being listed as “in danger” by UNESCO last year.

James Cook University marine biology associate professor Jodie Rummer said she felt underwhelmed by the commitment.

“Without a mention of climate change in this announcement … it’s not looking great,” she said.

“We need to be putting resources and money – $1 billion – towards net zero by 2035 and to reducing our emissions by 75 per cent in this decade.”

A woman stands in an aquarium building with her arms crossed.

Jodie Rummer says the reef will be doomed without more action on climate change.(ABC News: Travis Mead)

Dr Rummer said Australia was not doing enough to address climate change.

“We’re barrelling towards two-degree warming,” she said.

“What we’ve already seen with one and 1.2 degrees of global warming is three million heat waves within five years resulting in 98 per cent bleaching on reefs worldwide.

“This is isn’t just isolated to Australia — it’s a problem worldwide.”

Bleached coral next to healthy coral, with fish swimming by.

Coral bleaching at Magnetic Island.(Supplied: Victor Huertas)

‘Better late than never’

Paul Crocombe runs a dive business in Townsville and has been working on the reef for more than 40 years.

He welcomed today’s announcement, saying it was “better late than never”.

Mr Crocombe’s biggest concern was water quality.

“We get drought, we get a lot of exposed soil, and they we’ll get a cyclone and a flood and that soil will wash down into the ocean,” he said.

Mr Crocombe hoped people would become more aware that what they washed down their drains ultimately affected the reef.

He also felt many believed the reef was beyond repair, but he said the reef had the potential to be “very good for a long time” provided it was properly cared for.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” he said.

A woman with dark hair and a dark green dress speaking on a television show.

Terri Butler says the reef wouldn’t be in such bad shape if “real action” had been taken earlier.(News Video)

Labor lashes government’s timing

Opposition Environment spokeswoman Terri Butler said she viewed today’s announcement as an admission of failure from the government.

“Their only policy to date has been giving half a billion dollars to a tiny charity behind closed doors in a backroom deal and clearly they’re admitting that hasn’t been enough,” she said.

Ms Butler said if the government had taken “real action” on climate change the reef’s health would not be in such steep decline.

“This is a government that is desperately trying to scrabble in relation to the reef after a decade of mismanagement,” she said.

“This is a government that turned up to Glasgow this year with nothing more than a pamphlet.”