Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef, Cairns. The United Nations has put the Queensland and federal governments on notice that the Great Barrier Reef could be added to a list of endangered world heritage sites. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

By Cameron Atfield
4 May 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald) – The United Nations has put the Queensland and federal governments on notice that the Great Barrier Reef could be added to a list of endangered world heritage sites.

In a draft decision released Friday night, expected to be adopted when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia next month, it will be recommended the Great Barrier Reef be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014 ‘‘in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment’’ from the state and federal governments to take action.

That action included halting coastal development project that could impact the ‘‘outstanding universal value’’ of the site.

But Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the government had already taken steps and would work with the WHC to protect the value of the reef.

‘‘It’s one of the most precious places on earth,’’ he said.

‘‘Some of the recent announcements have not yet been incorporated into today’s report, such as a $200 million commitment to the next stage of reef rescue.’’

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said it was worrying that Australia was on the brink of joining the ‘‘list of shame’’ as a country that could not manage its world heritage sites.

‘‘Australia would be the only developed country in the world to have a world heritage site on endangered list. It would be a huge international embarrassment and it would be a big blow to our tourism industry,’’ she said.

‘‘We’ve got 54,000 people who rely on a healthy reef and a thriving tourism industry and those jobs would be at risk if international tourists think, 'Oh, the reef’s on the endangered list, gee it must be completely trashed, we won’t bother coming to visit’.

‘‘It would be a massive blow to the tourism industry, which is about $5 billion a year in revenue and that’s revenue we could have for years to come – it’s not just a one-off mining boom.’’

Senator Waters said inclusion would make Australia the only developed country to appear on the list, putting it in the same league as Yemen, the Congo and Afghanistan.

‘‘This would be a huge embarrassment to Australia to join the ranks of those war-torn countries and have one of our precious sites on the world heritage endangered list,’’ she said.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the UNESCO report was not all bad news for the reef.

"What I am pleased to see in the recommendations (is) that UNESCO has made is that they acknowledge the work we have done on our draft ports strategy, they acknowledge the work we are doing around water quality, and they acknowledge the work we are doing around Gladstone," he said.

"They do have some questions and we do have a time frame in which we are working with the federal government to achieve that."

Mr Powell said the state government was dedicated to the reef's protection.

"We have put $35 million on the table each and every year to invest in reef protection," he said.

"We are rolling out best management practice programs with the agricultural industry, particularly with the cane and grazing industries. We have significantly scaled back the previous Labor government’s crazy plans for the Abbot Point multi-cargo facility. We have established the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership.

"We are delivering for the reef, we will continue to deliver for the reef and we are working with the federal government in doing so." [more]

UN plans to list reef as endangered

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