By Angelo Risso
(Australian Associated Press)
British business magnate Sir Richard Branson hopes an election stoush over the management of the Great Barrier Reef can generate momentum in the fight against coral bleaching.
The Virgin Group founder, in Sydney to announce his company’s investment in an Australian non-profit’s $100 million plan to halt gully erosion on the reef, said the natural wonder was precious and in need of urgent assistance.
The Reef Aid restoration project, to be carried out by Greening Australia, attempts to reverse the rush of river sediment into the reef and rebuild surrounding wetlands.
Sir Richard said such projects were an easy and effective way to improve the reef’s health.
However, he said only a concerted attempt to halt the progress of climate change, including sticking to the COP21 Paris Agreement to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, would save Australia’s natural wonder.
“As business people, we have to work with governments in making sure we do actually get to carbon neutrality by 2050,” Sir Richard said on Monday.
“If that’s achieved, and it’s got to be achieved, then we just about have a chance to save the reef.”
The federal government has also promised to match private contributions to Reef Aid dollar for dollar, up to $2 million.
Greening Australia chairman Gordon Davis said the project, which aims to raise $10 million over the next three years, could reduce river sediment by up to 75 per cent by reshaping and re-vegetating gullies.
“With roughly 10,000 hectares to be repaired, it’s a huge job that will take many years,” Mr Davis said.
The announcement comes on the same day Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledged to contribute $377 million in new funding for reef research and management.
It also coincides with the release of Australian Research Council data showing recent mass bleaching has killed off more than a third of the northern and central parts of the reef.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt, present for the Virgin announcement, welcomed Labor’s pledge but said it was a case of catching up to the government’s program for reef management.
“We’d announced $460 million worth of additional programs during our time in government,” Mr Hunt said.
Sir Richard expressed hope that any election-period spending spree on management programs would benefit the reef above all.
“You need companies competing and sometimes political parties competing to do what’s right,” Sir Richard said.