Australia has been given seven months to prove it is protecting the Great Barrier Reef or risk having the reef listed as in danger, which could be of great embarrassment to both the federal and state government.
The United Nations’ World Heritage Committee met in Doha to discuss the conservation states of World Heritage Listed sites around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef.
Delegates praised Australia for improvements in the reef’s water quality but said they had several concerns about the site.
Abbott Point coal development a major concern
The Committee raised several points of concern including coastal development, climate change and ships being grounded in the area.
The reef is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, but is under pressure not only from climate change and the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, but agricultural runoff and development linked to mining.
One major concern raised was the plan to expand the Abbott Point coal developement. The expansion would involve dumping three million cubic tonnes of dredged material in the marine park area.
The report said, it “regrets the State Party’s approval for dumping 3 million cubic million cubic metre of dredge material inside the property prior to having undertaken a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options.”
Claims by Australia that the dredging would be offset by an 150 per cent increase in overall improvement were called into question due to the lack of concrete proposal.
UNESCO has asked Australia to submit an updated report on what it was doing to protect the natural wonder.
Deferral was a ‘tick of approval’
Queensland’s state Environment Minister, Andrew Powell, said the deferral was a ‘tick of appoval’.
“I welcome this decision by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which gives Queensland a big tick and it gives the work we are doing a big tick,” state Environment Minister Andrew Powell said.
“Our strong plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is already producing positive results, creating a brighter future that Queenslanders and tourists from around the world can enjoy.
“This decision is also a win for logic and science rather than rhetoric and scaremongering.”
Mr Powell said the Queensland government was working on coastal development projects, including the one at Abbott Point.
“We have significantly scaled back the development at Abbot Point and imposed more than 140 conditions on the project,” he said.
“We have delivered our Ports Strategy, limiting development to existing port areas for a decade, and we have outlined our plans to enshrine that commitment in legislation.”
But Green groups said the government was on its final warning, and had “clearly not lived up to the standards expected by the international community”.
“The World Heritage Committee has resisted intense pressure from the Australian and Queensland governments to water down its decision on the reef,” said WWF-Australia reef campaigner Richard Leck, who is in Doha for the committee’s annual meeting.
“Instead, the committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
“This is a victory for the millions around the world who say our reef is not a dump.”