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Australia is looking for corporate sponsors to pay for conservation efforts, even as the government approves yet more coal development projects. (Photo: FarbenfroheWunderwelt/flickr/cc)

Allowing Corporate Sponsorship of Great Barrier Reef Likened to Naming Hospital After Tobacco Company

Opponents slam Australian government's controversial new initiative for reef conservation

Nadia Prupis

Australia is seeking corporate sponsors to fund a new Great Barrier Reef conservation initiative, sparking fears that big companies could invest in the endangered marine site to 'greenwash' their poor environmental track records.

The world's biggest coral reef is facing increasing dangers stemming from climate change, including a historic global coral bleaching event driven by warming oceans. But environmental conservationists, including members of the Australia Greens party, say corporate sponsorship is no solution to the crisis.

"The most alarming part of this proposal is the potential for companies which are threatening the reef to buy positive reef branding to try to avert the reputational damage they deserve," Greens Senator Larissa Waters said on Wednesday, pointing out that the Australian government had also just given the green light to energy giant Adani to build the country's largest coal mine, ignoring widespread scientific opposition.

"It's a bit rich for the government to be cooking the reef with its coal obsession, and then wanting rich individuals to bail it out," she said, adding that the government should be using its own money to protect the marine site rather than looking for private investments.

Allowing coal companies to sponsor the Great Barrier Reef "would be like letting tobacco companies sponsor hospitals," Waters added.

In a federal brochure entitled "Partnerships for the Reef," the government-backed Reef Trust said it was looking for sponsorship, joint investments, and "collaborative arrangements." Among the projects are $1 million to improve seabird habitats, $1.5 million over three years to restore highly polluted riverbanks, and $7 million over three years to protect against coral loss from crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

"All Reef Trust investments will be recognised in branding of project materials, ranging from online publications and reports to social media activities and reef events," the brochure states.

To that idea, Waters countered, "While private donations for reef protection are welcome they shouldn’t be in exchange for advertising rights and they must be on top of adequate public funding, not in place of it. What's next, naming rights, like for football stadiums?"

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