Australian PM pledges A$1 billion to help ailing Great Barrier Reef

In April, Australian scientists found that 93 per cent of reefs had been affected by mass coral bleaching

The Australian Prime Minister has pledged a A$1 billion (£500 million) fund towards the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, in his first major environmental promise of the election campaign.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is facing a tight re-election battle, announced the creation of a special $1 billion fund, The Reef Fund, during a campaign visit to the state of Queensland, where he took a boat to an island in the famous reef.

If Mr Turnull’s government is re-elected in July, the promised funds will be spent over a period of 10 years, divided into clean energy projects aimed at cleaning the water and reducing the run-off of pollutants  into the water system.

Mr Turnbull said the fund will also finance projects including solar panels and improved sewage treatment.

“It’s the largest coral reef in the world, it is unique, it’s gigantic, it’s an enormous economic driver here in north Queensland,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Much of this will come in the form of financing solar energy, which of course will reduce emissions but also enable farmers to manage their land more efficiently,” said Mr Turnbull.

The announcement follows threats by the United Nations to list the marine park as “in danger” amid growing international concern about the health of the reef.

In April, analysis by Australian scientists found that 93 per cent of reefs had been affected by a recent mass coral bleaching event and that almost a third were severely or entirely bleached.

Severe coastal storms and cyclones, rising water temperatures and poor water quality caused partly by coastal pollution have all been highlighted as contributing to the damage of the reef’s diverse marine life.

In an announcement on Monday morning, environment minister Greg Hunt said it was the “largest ever commitment to the health of the reef in Australian history”.

It’s an investment in the legacy for our children, their children and our descendants.”

It will be immensely valuable for reducing sediment, reducing nitrogen, reducing run-off and for improving water quality,” Mr Hunt said.

Some scientists and environmentalists have criticised the focus on improving water quality, saying the main threat to the reef is rising ocean temperatures due to climate change.

The Telegraph reports that the Australian Marine Conservation Society said the funding was about one-tenth of what was needed but money alone would not save the reef.

“To achieve the transformational change that’s needed, federal regulations to cap farm pollution from running into the reef’s waters and harming its plants and animals are essential,” said Imogen Zethoven, a spokeswoman.