JULY 01, 2015:
The World Heritage Committee’s (WHC) decision (today) not to put the Great Barrier Reef on the in-danger list is a victory for all concerned with the future well-being of the Reef and the global environment in general. However, Australia-WWF, while welcoming the decision, underline that “Australia is now on probation, the real work starts now, and that the WHC want hard evidence that Australia is delivering outcomes in coming years”. Failure to do so could put the Reef on the Danger-list in 2020, after the next status report due in 2019.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches about 2000 km along the coast of Queensland in north-eastern Australia. It is the world’s largest single living structure created by hundreds of different types of corals. Among the vast array of marine creatures living in this intricate ecosystem are six out of the world’s seven species of turtles, the vegetarian dugong “sea cows”, many species of whales, sharks and dolphins, innumerable kinds of fishes, shells, sea urchins, snakes, sea and shore birds, even butterflies; making it one of the richest natural systems and the second largest World Heritage Site on Planet Earth.
The reef is worth almost US$5.8 billion per year to the Australian economy and is the source of nearly 69,000 full-time jobs
Over 2 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef each year. Popular activities include snorkelling and scuba diving among the corals, fish, marine turtles and other animals. Local residents enjoy the reef for sport fishing, sailing and island day trips, as well as commercial fishing, aquaculture and scientific research.
Why the reef is under threat
In the 1960’s, proposals for oil drilling and limestone mining in the Great Barrier Reef prompted environmental campaigns for its protection, leading to the creation (in 1975) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where mining and drilling are banned.
In 2011, UNESCO expressed extreme concern over the general state of the reef and in particular over the approval of a number of major port projects alongside the reef.
In 2013, approval was given to dredge (remove some of the seabed) 3 million cubic metres of seabed as part of a coal terminal expansion, with further plans of dumping the spoil in nearby waters within the World Heritage area.
The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1981
Dredging is being done to increase the depth of the shallow waters so that cargo ships and tankers can access the ports. When dredge spoil is dumped back into the sea it causes turbidity, drifting and unwanted sedimentation on the pristine coral reefs. New ports also mean increased ship traffic. By 2020, as many as 7,500 ships could pass through the reef each year.
Over-fishing and destructive use of equipment, especially trawl and line fisheries, strongly impact the local marine fauna. Along the coast, agricultural development causes run-off and pollution of the lagoon and the reefs. Global warming and rising sea temperatures cause bleaching and slows down the growth of reef-building corals.
GBR World Heritage Facts
If you are familiar with UNESCO’s World Heritage program, you will know that in order to be listed as World Heritage, a site or property must meet at least one of the ten Selection Criteria for inscription. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) meets four of these criteria (vii, viii, ix and x).
The full justification for inscription document [here] explains all this in great detail, but in summary, GBR is World Heritage because it is:
- of superlative natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
- an outstanding examples of an ecosystem that has evolved over millennia including significant geological processes in the development of land forms;
- an example of a significant ecological and biological processes, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
- and it contains the most important and significant natural habitats of biological diversity, including threatened species of outstanding universal value…
Reef Support & Resources
- Fight for the Reef
- Reef.Panda.Org (WWF – Save the Great Barrier Reef)
- WWF Australia
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
- GBR Outlook Report 2014
- ABC Fact Check
- Stat of Conservation UNESCO April 2014
- Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site (UNESCO)
SOURCES & CREDITS
All photos © Dreamstime