Australia’s Great Barrier Reef outlook poor but not “in danger” – UNESCO

UNESCO says that the Great Barrier Reef is threatened but stops short of listing it as “in danger”.

BONN, GERMANY (JULY 1, 2015) (REUTERS) – The heritage committee of the UNESCO cultural agency said on Wednesday (July 1) that the outlook for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was poor due to threats including pollution and climate change but stopped short of listing it as “in danger”.

Some environmental campaigners had urged the committee to declare the reef in danger, a ruling that would have put pressure on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to take tougher conservation measures.

The decision upheld a draft deal signed in May that was a relief for Canberra. Australia plans to safeguard the reef until 2050 with extra spending to limit pollution and restrictions on developing of new ports.

“Queenslanders, Australians love the Great Barrier Reef. They love it so much, they elected a government committed to protect it. And that’s exactly what we will do,” Deputy Premier of Queensland, Jackie Trad, said.

“Climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development are major threats to the property’s health,” the World Heritage Committee of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a decision adopted at talks in Bonn.

The committee lists 45 sites worldwide in danger, from corals in Belize to the city of Timbuktu in Mali. A listing is an embarrassment to governments and means the committee draws up a non-binding list of actions to restore sites.

Environmental groups in Bonn said that the Australian government now had to deliver on its pledges on the reef.

“It firmly put the Australian government on probation and it was a strong decision because plans are plans but the real work has to start now,” WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said.

Greenpeace said that the reef was in danger from planned coal mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland.

The reef, which stretches 2,000 kms (1,200 miles) along Australia’s coast, is the world’s largest living ecosystem, and brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism revenues.

Australia announced an extra A$8 million ($6.2 million) for reef monitoring at the Bonn talks, saying it had “clearly heard” the concerns of the committee and of environmental groups.

“There are real challenges. And there are real matters such as climate change and water quality and the crown-of-thorns [coral-eating starfish] which we do have to deal with. But through this process, through the leadership of the World Heritage committee, we have been able to achieve in 18 months what would otherwise have taken a decade. Five dredge disposal plans have been reduced to zero. Capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef marine park and the World Heritage area has been banned forever. We have put in place the Reef 2050 plan,” Australian environment minister Greg Hunt said.

In May, Australia said it would more than double an area near the Great Barrier Reef subject to special curbs on shipping.