Australia's Great Barrier Reef is facing an uncertain future, its survival threatened by industrial pollution and rising ocean temperatures.
Scientists and Australia's Greens Party have been calling for the government to invest more in rehabilitating the reef, a UNESCO world heritage area. But the government has a different plan: they're asking for corporate sponsors to invest in specific projects like seabird resilience ($1 million over five years for seabird habitats) and controlling crown-of-thorns starfish, an invasive species that threatens coral ($7 million over three years).
In exchange, companies would be allowed to use the reef in their corporate promotions.
“Your role and commitment to protecting and conserving the Great Barrier Reef will be widely acknowledged,” a government brochure about the plan reads. “All Reef Trust investments will be recognized in branding of project materials, ranging from online publications and reports to social media activities and reef events.”
While the government's plan suggests that they're looking for viable solutions to protect the reef's future, critics say it means nothing if they don't also act to curb global warming by reducing Australia's investment in greenhouse gas-producing coal. Just this week, the largest coal mine in the Southern Hemisphere cleared a legal hurdle on its way to being approved in the Australian state of Queensland, according to the ABC.
"It's a bit rich for the government to be cooking the reef with its coal obsession, and then wanting rich individuals to bail it out," Greens Senator Larissa Waters told ABC radio. She said the government needs to be at least equaling whatever corporate investment they're able to attract through the plan, and questioned the idea of letting companies use the reef to boost their corporate image. “What’s next, naming rights, like for football stadiums?" she said.
In June this year, the Australian government submitted a report to UNESCO outlining how they plan to rescue the reef over the coming decades, which narrowly avoided having the reef officially classified as being a world heritage area "in danger"–something the government is eager to prevent.
Steve Palumbi, a reef scientist based in California, explained the scope of the problems facing reefs globally: "All coral reefs in the world suffer from the same problems—they’re smothered by sediment, choked by weedy algae, blasted, dug up and stripped of most of their fish. Then there’s climate change making the oceans hot, sour and stormy."