Aussies unfit to care for Great Barrier Reef?
Australia will be scrutinised by world environment bodies for its guardianship of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is being considered for the World Heritage site in danger list. (Photo: Getty Images)
AUSTRALIA'S CREDIBILITY AS PROTECTOR of the Great Barrier Reef hangs in the balance. In June 2013, the United Nations' environmental arm UNESCO will decide whether to list the reef as a World Heritage site in danger.
A sobering assessment of the reef's health came in October this year, when a major study revealed coral cover had been halved since the mid-1980s due to cyclones, bleaching and the crown-of-thorns starfish.
The study warned that on current trends, what's left of the reef’s coral could halve again within the next 10 years.
Australia has until 1 February to convince UNESCO it's making substantial progress on the reef's environmental management.
Great Barrier Reef in danger?
Earlier this year, UNESCO put Australia on notice over its management of the reef, criticising the Queensland and federal governments for their handling of coastal development.
The UN body's concern was sparked by gas industry developments on Curtis Island off Gladstone, and prompted UNESCO to send a delegation to Australia to check on the safeguards in place for an environmental asset of global importance.
UNESCO expressed concern at the scale of development being considered in and adjacent to the World Heritage area.
The global body warned the reef could be added to the list of World Heritage sites in danger, if Australia does not demonstrate it's taking appropriate action to protect the area.
Such a listing would be a massive blow to Australia's environmental credentials, its international reputation, and Queensland's tourism industry.
Australia’s environmental credibility on the line
Dr Robin Beaman, a marine researcher from James Cook University, says it is important to take UNESCO’s threat seriously.
“We should not be so dismissive of the UNESCO concerns about the health of the Great Barrier Reef, to do so is such a parochial response,” Robin says. “The World Heritage listing for the Great Barrier Reef, and its continuing health, is vital for the marketing of the area for tourism and the numerous people who derive income from the reef.”
Professor Terry Hughes, a coral reef expert from James Cook University, says the decline in coral cover highlights UNESCO’s concerns.
“Corals are the backbone of the reef that provide habitat for many other species, and measuring coral cover on a reef is the simplest way to monitor its condition.”
Terry says the uneven loss of coral cover indicates how human impacts have damaged the reef. “The key question now is what are we going to do about these losses?” Terry says.
Australia has until February 1 to convince UNESCO it's making substantial progress on the reef's environmental management. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is due to meet in Thailand in June to decide if reef should be listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger.
MAJOR FINDINGS FROM UNESCO:
* Rapid increase of coastal developments, including ports infrastructure, of "significant concern"
* Reef lacks overall plan for future sustainable development
* Development and other pressures should be reduced as much as possible to boost reef's resilience to adapt to climate change
* Warning of reef being listed as "in danger", if some of the most threatening developments proceed further towards consent
* Warning of "unaddressed concerns" about the protection and management of port and gas industry facilities in Gladstone Harbour and on nearby Curtis Island
* Australia should not allow any new port developments or associated infrastructure, outside existing port areas, in or adjoining the World Heritage area
* Australian government to complete strategic assessment of the reef before 2015
* Australia must sustain and increase efforts and resources to conserve the reef
* Independent review to be held of the management of Gladstone Harbour
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