UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has given Australia until February to prove it’s protecting the Great Barrier Reef or it will be listed as “in danger”.
The World Heritage Committee has given Australia seven months to prove it is protecting the Great Barrier Reef or risk having the reef listed as in danger.
UN cultural agency UNESCO warned Australia of the “serious decline in the condition” of the reef and said “a business as usual approach to managing the property is not an option”.
UNESCO’s annual World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha on Wednesday called on Australia to submit a report on its actions by February 1, 2015.
A decision will be assessed on whether Australia has implemented a list of recommendations set out by the committee in 2012.
In documents presented at the meeting on Wednesday, UNESCO raised particular concern about the approval in December of the Abbot Point coal port and allowing the dumping of three million tonnes of dredge waste within the marine park waters.
Any in-danger listing for the reef would admit Australia to an undesirable club that includes the likes of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has all five of its World Heritage sites on the danger list.
The committee welcomed progress made by Australia, specifically around water quality and its endorsement of a 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
Australia’s intention to restrict future developments to current port blueprints along the Queensland coast was also commended.
But the committee added that because the Queensland Ports Strategy could not be applied retrospectively, Australia needed to ensure developments outside these areas are not approved.
It requested Australia ensure the decision to dump the spoil offshore wouldn’t impact the reef’s “overall universal value” and was the least damaging option available.
WWF-Australia spokesman Richard Leck, who attended the Doha meeting, says the committee has effectively put Australia on notice to prove it is protecting the reef.
“The committee has stood firm on the need for stronger reef protection,” he told AAP.
“They’ve really put the government on notice that they need to lift their game.”
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche says the committee has delivered a vote of confidence in Australia’s management of the reef.
“The decision is global acknowledgment that Australia is on track to deliver a long-term plan for conservation of the Great Barrier Reef’s outstanding universal value,” he said.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the World Heritage Committee had recognised the significant work and progress made by the state and federal governments in managing and protecting the reef.
He said protecting the reef was an “ongoing challenge” but he’s confident Australia is up to the task.
The state and federal governments jointly contribute $180 million a year to protecting the reef, including work toward improving water quality, he said.
Mr Hunt said the decision to approve the Abbot Point project complied with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention and was subject to rigorous environmental assessment.
Australian Marine Conservation Society reef spokeswoman Felicity Wishart said Australia needed to take urgent and concrete action to ensure the reef wasn’t put on the committee’s list of shame.
“The first step must be to immediately ban the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area,” she said.
She said this was an outdated practice that polluted the reef waters.