Op Ed: Funding essential marine science to protect the Great Barrier Reef

As an island nation, Australia is blessed with some of the most beautiful marine environments on Earth. We’ve got it all: stunning beaches, magnificent surf breaks, remote islands, coral reefs that glow like magic, and a whole universe of sea creatures found nowhere else on the planet.

Australians love these special places. We want to see them safe and protected. Which is why we employ the best marine scientists in the world to monitor and support them.

This work is led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, based out of Townsville. The quality of the Institute’s research should be a source of national pride. And the 300 highly skilled jobs it creates in regional Australia should make it a natural government priority.

Unfortunately, the Morrison government refused to treat it like one. Because of Liberal and National neglect over a decade, staff have been forced to work in increasingly unsafe conditions, with mould growing under carpet and on the roof. Their facilities are badly out of date, relying on equipment that can no longer perform modern science.

These experts study climate change and the Great Barrier Reef. They help revive patches of coral reef that were previously dying. They monitor changes in water quality and the growing problem of marine plastics. And they protect endangered sea life, like turtles and dugongs.

This is essential work. But when the Liberal and National parties left office, they refused to guarantee the Institute ongoing funding, putting more than 100 jobs at risk.

This is the situation I inherited as Minister for the Environment and Water. With decaying facilities, an approaching funding cliff, and with a devastating number of regional jobs at risk.

Which is why the federal Labor Government is stepping in to save these jobs and secure the future of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. We’re investing $163.4 million in the May Budget, to create over 100 new jobs, to refurbish the Townsville headquarters, and to fund new equipment, including a replacement research vessel.

Our government will always back in Australian scientists. We will always listen to experts, value their knowledge, and promote their research. Because that’s how we make better decisions. And that’s how we build a stronger, smarter, more resilient economy.

Of course, there is no shortage of challenges that require the expertise of our marine scientists.

We need to reduce the terrible stream of plastics that are filling up our waters. We need to understand the devastating marine heatwaves that are hitting our oceans. We need to use our marine environments to absorb carbon dioxide and fight against climate change.

And we need to protect our special places, particularly the Great Barrier Reef. Supporting Australian marine scientists is one element of our efforts to protect this natural wonder of the world, on top of the $1.2 billion we invested last budget.

Marine scientists do their work out in the elements, living on boats for weeks at a time, diving into the depths of the sea, and coming back up with vital intelligence about our oceans.

Like our government, they want to protect more of what’s precious, restore more of what’s damaged, and better manage nature for our kids and grandkids.

And that’s why we are supporting them with the resources they need, so they can help preserve our marine environments for generations to come.

Published in the Townsville Bulletin