A heritage committee of the UNESCO cultural agency stopped short on Friday of placing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on an “in danger” list, but raised long-term concerns about its future.
The long-awaited ruling by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee welcomed Australian efforts to maintain the environmentally sensitive region but noted its outlook was “poor” and called on the government to stick rigidly to commitments to protect it.
“Climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development are major threats to the property’s health…,” the statement said after delegates held discussions in the German city in Bonn.
Busy shipping lanes pass through the area and commercial ships are required to hire a special “reef pilot” to navigate through it.
Australia earlier this month said it would more than double an area near the Great Barrier Reef subject to special curbs on shipping by including large areas of the adjacent Coral Sea in the restricted area.
“This decision has been described by some as a reprieve for the Reef. It is not a reprieve – it is a big, red flag from UNESCO,” Shani Tager, Greenpeace Australia Reef campaigner, said of the Heritage Committee decision.
“By insisting that the Australian government prepare a report within 18 months … UNESCO has clearly shown that the Great Barrier Reef is not fine and is not safe in Tony Abbott’s hands,” she said of the Australian prime minister.
In 2010 a Chinese coal carrier ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef, provoking an international outcry.
Since then, there has been renewed concern that development, particularly coal mining in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, could endanger the reef.
The UNESCO committee’s ruling has the status of a “draft decision” for further discussion and later confirmation.
(Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Andrew Callus)