SOME of the nation's wealthiest environmental philanthropists are bankrolling a multi-million-dollar campaign to challenge Queensland coal and gas developments they fear will threaten the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
Cellarmasters founder and keen yachtsman David Thomas has refocused the spending priorities of his environmental foundation, the Thomas Foundation, to include reef protection, and has encouraged others to follow his lead.
A series of high-impact television advertisements are being filmed for the reef campaign that will run throughout the federal election.
Organisers said the campaign would not favour either side of politics, noting the Coalition's strong record on marine protection in the Great Barrier Reef.
Fight for the Reef is the first major marine project to benefit from a significant Thomas Foundation grant.
The project is jointly run by the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
The Thomas Foundation will contribute $2 for every dollar raised.
The Marine Conservation Society and WWF were considered to be more moderate than other environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, which campaign against the use of fossil fuels.
"We are not against mining. We are just against fast-tracking and the lack of assessments," an organiser for the Marine Conservation Society campaign said.
The Thomas Foundation recently sponsored a tour of Australia by marine biologist Professor Callum Roberts, who toured Gladstone Harbour.
"Australia's challenges are no different from what the rest of the world faces," Professor Roberts said.
"For our seas and the fisheries they sustain to thrive, we must radically change the way they are managed. Put simply, that means fishing less, using less destructive methods, and protecting more."
Professor Roberts has identified rising sea temperatures, over fishing, ocean acidification, disease spread and industrial development along the Australian coast as being the country's perfect storm of threats.
The Thomas Foundation campaign follows in the wake of concerns raised by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which is considering putting the Great Barrier Reef on its 'in danger' list.
After a tour of Keppel Bay and Gladstone Harbour, Professor Roberts said he believed UNESCO was justified in its concerns "because of the haphazard and chaotic nature of the development proposals in this region".
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