Australia's $379M Plan to Save Great Barrier Reef Raises Skepticism
The Australian government announced Sunday its largest investment in the Great Barrier Reef to date. More than $500 million Australian dollars (US $379 million) will go towards helping the highly vulnerable site that's under threat from climate change.
"It is an investment not only in the future of the Great Barrier Reef, but also in Australian jobs and our economy through the tourists the reef attracts every year," Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull's office, along with the ministers for foreign affairs, energy and environment, said in a joint statement.
The government said the site is a critical national asset providing AUS $6.4 billion a year to the Queensland and Australian economies and supporting 64,000 jobs. The $500 million will go towards the improvement of water quality, tackling coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, reducing pollution into the reef, mitigating the impacts of climate change and implementing scientific reef restoration.
But environmentalists pointed out the government is simultaneously backing a new coal mine in Central Queensland and subsidizing fossil fuel industries.
"To simultaneously promote Adani's coal mine, which would be one of the world's largest, pretending to care about the world's largest reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt," he said.
Zelda Grimshaw, spokesperson for Stop Adani Cairns, added: "To protect our beautiful reef we need to stop paying enormous subsidies to the big polluters—the coal, oil and gas industries."
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted a similar sentiment:
If Malcom Turnbull wants to save the Great Barrier Reef they should stop Adani - and get serious about reducing carbon pollution. #StopAdani— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@Sarah Hanson-Young💚)1524955842.0
The most significant environmental threat facing the iconic reef is climate change, according to the 2014 report from the Australian government.
"The Great Barrier Reef is being killed by climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels," Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate and energy campaigner Nikola Casule said.
"Not only does this funding continue to focus on peripheral issues without tackling the real problem, it also ignores the fact that if we continue to roll out the red carpet to projects like the Adani Carmichael mega-mine it won't matter how much money the government sets aside—the waters will continue to warm," he noted.
This is The Big Lie. You cannot ‘preserve’ the Great Barrier Reef without cutting carbon emissions. That means… https://t.co/FThUmt9fbJ— David Ritter (@David Ritter)1524963798.0
Rising ocean temperatures are increasing the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching, which has had major detrimental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers have directly attributed this problem to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases, and warn that bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase as temperatures continue to rise.
A study published in Nature this month found that a record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016 across the Great Barrier Reef left much of the coral ecosystem at an "unprecedented" risk of collapse.
Another factor in reef decline is nutrient runoff from agriculture, which has led to rising populations of coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish.
Still, Terry P. Hughes, director of a center that studies coral reefs at James Cook University in Queensland, tweeted that the government's plan to fight the starfish outbreak would not be enough to save the imperiled reef.
We're not going to fix the challenge of climate change for coral reefs by killing a few starfish in Queensland… https://t.co/Yue0zXROff— Terry Hughes (@Terry Hughes)1524889466.0
Greenpeace's Casule said that no amount of money would help the reef if extreme heat driven by climate change continued to warm the waters surrounding the coral.
"Any Australian government that wants to protect the reef must outline and commit to a credible science-based plan to tackle climate change and move to rapidly reduce both our domestic emissions and those that we export," Casule said.
"You can have coral or coal. You can't have both."
Jon Brodie, a professor at James Cook University's Coral Reef Studies Centre of Excellence also raised skepticism, telling Reuters that the government's funding was an extension of existing failed programs.
"It's not working, it's not achieving major water quality improvements," he said.
Great Barrier Reef at ‘Unprecedented’ Risk of Collapse After Major Bleaching Event https://t.co/pjOOir60Au @TheCCoalition @CarbonBrief— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1524215406.0
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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