The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has invested an initial $10 million into the Traditional Owner Reef Futures Fund.

“We wanted to not only work closely with Traditional Owners but also to ensure that the process is a genuinely co-designed approach by incorporating the knowledge and creativity of the people who hold the inherent rights and interests of the Reef,” said Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden.

Earlier in the year, the Foundation announced that 10 percent of the total funding for the Reef Trust Partnership would be invested in Traditional Owner Reef projects over the next five years, the largest single investment for Reef protection by Traditional Owners.

“This will enable the Traditional Owners of the Reef to not only continue carrying out Reef protection activities as they have been doing over thousands of years but to also ensure that these essential skills and knowledge are passed onto the next generation,” Ms Marsden said.

Ms Marsden said the investment had been co-designed with the Reef’s Traditional Owners and that the fund will be a “game changer.”

“This investment will build on and scale up the incredible work already being done by more than 200 Indigenous Rangers and 70 Sea Country groups within the Reef catchment to protect the Reef,” Ms Marsden said.

However, new research from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) suggests the rate of conservation might not be keeping up with the Reef’s rate of decline.

The report from AIMS said hard coral cover on the Reef has declined by 10 to 30 percent in the past five years alone.

Coral reefs in the northern and central areas of the Reef have also been heavily impacted by “multiple disturbances, including mass coral bleaching, cyclones and crown of thorns starfish.”

The Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Shani Tager said although conservation work is critical, the best chance for a future healthy reef is government intervention.

“The rate of conservation work simply isn’t keeping up with the rate of Reef decline … back-to-back bleaching events have had a really significant impact on the Reef’s health,” Ms Tager said.

“This report reminds us yet again how out of touch our political leaders are on the urgent need for climate change action.”

Ms Tager welcomed the investment into the ecological knowledge of Traditional Owners, saying this knowledge “points to many of the solutions for climate crisis.”

“Traditional Owners have a 65,000-plus year history on the Great Barrier Reef, [their] knowledge should be front and centre in terms of how we protect our natural environment and the Reef,” Ms Tager said.

“This applies not just to on-Reef measures to protect and manage the ecosystem but also in terms of how we approach land management and dealing with climate change.”

Traditional Owner undertaking Reef protection activities on Raine Island as part of the Raine Island recovery Project. Photo by Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum, supplied by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

While Ms Tager is eager for more Traditional Owners to take part in Reef conservation, she said the Federal Government needs to act quickly.

“To give our Reef a fighting chance into the future we need our politicians to start phasing out the coal and gas industry and speed up the roll-out of renewable energy,” Ms Tager said.

The Campaign Manager also said the Government has “failed to protect the Reef,” particularly referencing the controversial decision to go ahead with the Adani Carmichael coal mine.

“The Adani project and other Galilee Basin coal mines are taking us in absolutely the wrong direction when it comes to the Reef having a healthy future,” Ms Tager said.

“Given the threat that the Reef is under from climate change, it’s essential that other stresses on it are minimised, including other coastal developments.”

A spokesperson from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation agreed that climate change is a huge threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

“The twin perils of climate change and local stresses mean the window of opportunity for protecting the Reef is closing,” the spokesperson said.

However, the Foundation took the stance that the Reef can “recover and bounce back” with enough time and by reducing pressures on the ecosystem.

The spokesperson also said over the next year the funding for the Traditional Owner Reef Futures Fund will be used to design governance and support the engagement of Traditional Owners in the Fund’s activities.

Ms Tager remained steadfast that the AIMS report data “screams out” that climate change will make it more difficult for the Reef to recover from more frequent climate events like natural disasters.

“This is a burning red flag for our Reef and our nation. Australians love our Great Barrier Reef and we must fight to protect its future,” Ms Tager said.

By Hannah Cross