(Source: Great Barrier Reef Foundation)

Great Barrier Reef Gets $379 Million Boost After Coral Dies Off

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(Bloomberg) -- The Great Barrier Reef is being given a A$500 million ($379 million) boost by Australia in the battle to save the world’s largest living structure as it faces mounting challenges such as climate change, agricultural runoff and a coral-eating starfish.

“Like reefs all over the world, the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement on Sunday, calling the funding the largest granted to the famous tourist icon. “A big challenge demands a big investment –- and this investment gives our reef the best chance.”

The funding includes:

  • A$201 million to improve water quality through reducing fertilizer use and adapting new technologies and land management practices
  • A$100 million for science research to restore the reef and boost its resilience
  • A$58 million to fight the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish
  • A$45 million for sea country management, coastal clean-up days and to raise awareness
  • A$40 million to enhance reef health monitoring

The new funding comes after Deloitte Access Economics valued the reef last year at A$56 billion, based on an asset supporting tens of thousands of jobs and which contributes A$6.4 billion a year to the economy. Still, that was before a study released this month in Nature showed about 30 percent of the reef, which is bigger than Japan, died off in 2016 during an extended marine heatwave.

The fight for the reef has helped to open up a debate in Australia over the future of coal, the nation’s second-largest export earner which has been blamed by scientists for causing greenhouse gases that have contributed to man-made climate change.

Turnbull angered conservationists in October by ditching plans to set renewable power targets, even as Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises Ltd. plans to build one of the world’s biggest mines of the fossil fuel in Queensland state -- which also hosts the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said while the government’s funding boost was welcomed, “we can only guarantee a healthy reef for future generations by halting the climate pollution that is fueling global warming, and which in turn is driving mass coral bleaching and ocean acidification.”

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