Saving the Great Barrier Reef Will Cost $6 Billion, But It Could Be Worse

New report from the Queensland government recommends altering land use and improvement farm management.
August 13, 2016, 6:05pm
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef. Image: Flickr/Robert Linsdell

Here's some good news: We may still be able to save Australia's Great Barrier Reef, scarred though it is by a bleaching event that affects 90 percent of the reef, and has led to the death of over one-third of its coral in some regions.

The bad news? It'll cost a fortune. Specifically, according to a new report from Queensland's Water Science Taskforce, it'll cost around $6.3 billion (or $8.2 billion in Australian currency). The vast majority of that, around $4.94 billion, would go toward halving the sediment coming out of the farm-heavy Fitzroy Basin by 2025, and cutting its nitrogen levels by 80 percent. Much of the rest of the cash would go toward cutting the sediment coming out of the Burdekin Basin by 50 percent as well. It'll be tough, according to The Guardian, as state and federal governments in Australia are currently only spending "less than a tenth" of that for the effort. It's daunting, no doubt, but it's not as bad as it could have been. When a similar report leaked from the Queensland government back in June, the estimates for dealing with pollution in the reef ran as high as $12.2 billion. As for the new report, it recommends altering the use of land in some areas, introducing better management techniques for the area's farmers, fixing gullies, and adding improvements for dealing with urban stormwater.


There's not much Australia can do about the wider problem of rising ocean temperatures affecting the reef, but at least they can improve the water quality and stave off a worst-case scenario for the time being.

"The recommendations set the stage for a bold new era of reform in water quality improvement and that is what we will deliver," said Queensland's Environment Minister Steven Miles said in a statement from Thursday.

Letting aside the irreparable loss of one of the world's most unique areas, there's a practical reason for action here. As the report states, tourism and related industries associated with the reef pump around $4.5 billion into the Australian economy and employ around 70,000 people. The farms responsible for the declining water quality in the river basins employ about 35,000 people and bring in a little more than half as much money.

Getting both to work well together could be a win-win for many of the parties involved, as well as Australia itself. And for that matter, the world.

And somehow, those figures make the ultimate goal seem more attainable. It'll take just about a year's worth of the area's tourism and farming income to make things better by 2025. Or let's put it another way. The official cost estimate for the Rio Summer Olympics is $12 billion, although some people say the real number is in excess of $20 billion. The Olympic games in Sochi two years ago cost around $55 billion.

Rather than throwing away that cash on monuments that could bring the world together, wouldn't it be better if nations of the world chipped in to save something much more enduring?

Just a thought.