Despite being one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world and squarely in the firing line with climate change, UNESCO experts decided not to label the Great Barrier Reef “in danger”.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee report on the health of the Reef still paints a stark future for the World Heritage Area.
In particular, scientists and conservationists have sharply criticized plans to expand the Abbot Point coal-loading port in Queensland, which would involve the dumping of dredge spoils in waters near the reef, which includes 1,050 islands and stretches along almost the entire eastern coast of Queensland.
The experts’ recommendation, published in Paris, now goes to a vote by the World Heritage Committee, which includes representatives of 21 countries and is scheduled to meet next month in Bonn, Germany.
Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, said Friday the government was committed to a 35-year plan to restore the reef to good health, a fact noted in the recommendation.
However scientists state that the Reef does not have 35 years. In one of our previous articles we reported that widespread coral death could occur in the next 10-20 years.
The reef’s coral cover has halved since the mid-1980s because of cyclones, bleaching and the crown-of-thorns starfish.
The other main threats to the reef are declining water quality, climate change, coastal development and illegal fishing, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Environmental activists Greenpeace says coalmining is causing the most damage to the reef, linking the sector to climate change as part of its reef campaign.
‘The Australian government can’t talk about protecting the reef while aggressively supporting the licensing of mega-mine and expansion of coal ports along the Great Barrier Reef coast,’ spokeswoman Shani Tager said.
Image: Paul Arps (c)