Media Releases - 28 January 2022

Funding announcement insufficient to overcome climate and other challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef

  • New data released during Christmas showed that over 217,000 ha of forests and bushland was destroyed within Great Barrier Reef catchments, likely with little to no federal oversight or approval. This ongoing destruction has a significant impact on water quality for the reef.

  • Strong recommendations for national environment law reforms specifically targeted for the Great Barrier Reef have been put on the backburner by Morrison Gov’t.

  • A credible response by the Federal Government must include the ceasing of the mindless fossil fuel acreage releases that are exacerbating the reef’s greatest threat—climate change.

The Wilderness Society provides the following response to the Morrison Government’s announcement made today that an additional $1 billion funding over 10 years will be directed towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

“This package will be insufficient to overcome the breadth of challenges currently faced by the Great Barrier Reef,” said Dr Anita Cosgrove, Acting Queensland Campaign Manager at the Wilderness Society. “Deforestation is rampant in reef catchments, harming the quality and amount of water in rivers that flow into reef estuaries. Deforestation and land clearing also harms iconic wildlife like koalas, and a lot of the destruction occurs without federal government oversight to properly regulate it.”

Over 217,000 hectares of forest and bushland was removed in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas in one year alone and the bulk of that would not have been reviewed or approved by the federal government. A national 2019 analysis found that historically only around 7% of deforestation and land clearing of threatened communities and species habitat was referred for federal approval.

“Deforestation and land clearing in reef catchment areas are bad news for the Great Barrier Reef. Sediments and chemical pollutants run off the land into waterways, before flowing out to smother the Great Barrier Reef. The continued shockingly high rates of deforestation show that the Morrison Government is not doing enough to stop the source of this damage and save this World Heritage icon that Australians love and communities rely upon.

“The independent review into the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act by Professor Graham Samuel emphasised that systemic change is desperately needed to turn around the devastating declines in environmental values across the nation. His review included recommendations around adopting national standards to help ensure the Great Barrier Reef would remain a healthy, vibrant, national icon for generations to come. Instead, the Morrison Government has chosen to put EPBC reform into the too hard basket and not implement the recommended standards.

“Additionally, the Morrison Government continues to mindlessly release fossil fuel acreage. It is abundantly clear that climate change is a major immediate and ongoing threat faced by the reef and fossil fuels exacerbate that threat. To give the reef the best chance for the future, the federal government must suspend the annual release of vast amounts of marine acreage for oil and gas exploration, and stop financing fossil fuel developments onshore.

“This funding announcement looks like a desperate attempt from the Morrison Government to shore up votes in the lead up to the federal election and cynically avoid an “in danger” listing on the reef from the World Heritage Committee. Stretching $1 billion out over 10 years is a drop in the ocean compared to funding—and actions—that are genuinely needed to protect the reef,” Dr Cosgrove concluded.

For further comment contact Dr Anita Cosgrove, the Wilderness Society on 0419 253 348.


  • Queensland Government (2021) 2018-19 SLATS report.

  • Ward M, et al (2019) Lots of loss with little scrutiny: The attrition of habitat critical for threatened species in Australia. Conservation Science and Practice, e117