Restoration of the Great Barrier Reef funding needs billions not millions say scientists

Attention has turned to funding rescue efforts for the Great Barrier Reef, with some experts saying State and Federal Government funding for even some big projects is little more than “chump change.”

A panel of experts this week declared the World Heritage listed reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, is in danger.

In Cosmos Weekly this week, former ABC Catalyst science reporter Jonica Newby begins a three-part investigation into what’s happening to the reef, including identifying urgent emergency measures which are being proposed by scientists to offer some relief.

Despite avoiding a formal ‘inscription’ onto the List of World Heritage in Danger, the findings outlined in the joint report by scientists from the World Heritage Centre (WHC) and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) point to a dire situation in a reef beset by regular coral bleaching events, ocean heatwaves and changes in biodiversity.

Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek says she understands people who live and work around the Reef might find the report alarming.

“It’s important to note this is not a UNESCO proposal for listing the Reef as ‘in danger’. This is a technical report, and the World Heritage Centre is yet to make a recommendation, which would be considered by the World Heritage Committee.

“Our Government has supercharged work to protect the Reef, with a record $1.2 billion investment including $204 million of new funding in this year’s Budget.

“This is in addition to the outstanding work being done by the Queensland Government.

COSMOS Podcast: Great Barrier Reef coral report cuts both ways

“Together with the Queensland Government, the new funding brings Australia’s total Reef investment to more than $4.4 billion from 2014-15 to 2029-30.”

This is an average annual spend is about $300 million a year.

But as Newby points out in her Cosmos Investigation, the scale of the Reef – and therefore the funding problem – is immense.

One proposal being seriously considered by scientists, which is outlined in Newby’s investigation, is to grow 10 million to 100 million new corals a year, at a cost of around $1 per surviving coral.

“A hundred million a year for the Great Barrier Reef is chump change,” says David Mead, who led the establishment of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP). He supports the program.

“I’m used to dealing with projects in the billions! We spend that on a stretch of road – why wouldn’t we spend it on a structure as economically and psychologically important as the reef?”

Anna marsden
Anne Marsden

The RRAP has secured some funding from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF), which in August 2018 was surprised by an out-of-the-blue contribution from the Turnbull Government of $444 million for reef work.

Managing director of the Foundation, Anna Marsden, said at the time: “We absolutely recognise this is a large amount of public funds that has been trusted through us to be leveraged, but also to go where it counts.”

This week, Marsden told Cosmos, the GBRF “is tracking ahead of target in the Collaborative Investment Strategy.”


“Thanks to the generous support of corporate Australia, philanthropic trusts and foundations, individuals, and the co-contributions of our project partners, the Foundation has been able to leverage an additional $240 million for the Reef in co-investments as at 30 June 2022.

“This is $30 million ahead of the published fundraising target.

“The Foundation has been encouraged to see an elevation of interest and commitment to environmental protection over the past 12 months following COP and news of the 2022 mass coral bleaching.

“Some of our recent funders include:

  • Coles: 10-year, $10-million blue-carbon partnership to help strengthen the regeneration and resilience of the Reef   
  • Life-Space Probiotics: $2.25 million partnership to advance research into coral probiotics to support efforts to help restore the Reef and help it adapt to and recover from the impacts of climate change and other threats 
  • Castlemaine Perkins:  $1 million partnership to help restore the health of Queensland’s waterways that flow to the Reef.”

The GBRF says more than 370 projects to protect and restore the Reef are underway, with more than 500 partners through the Reef Trust Partnership bringing together governments, communities, Traditional Owners, science, business, philanthropy and others in the largest collective effort for the Reef, delivering and building on the Reef 2050 Plan.

Plibersek says the Great Barrier Reef sustains 64,000 Australian jobs and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy.

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