Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Under ‘Serious Threat,’ but Stays Off UNESCO’s ‘In Danger’ List
The magnificent reef is home to thousands of marine species, but for years has been under threat from pollution and climate change. The warming ocean has caused coral bleaching, and increased sediment, contaminants and nutrients have made their way into the waters of the Coral Sea from industrial, agricultural and urban runoff. Coastal development and overfishing also threaten the UNESCO World Heritage Area.
At a meeting earlier this week, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided not to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger,” noting that it remained under “serious threat” from ocean warming and pollution, reported Reuters.
Some scientists were surprised by the decision.
“A lot of climate scientists are shocked by the fact that it wasn’t put on the list,” Kimberley Reid from Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate told CNN.
Made up of 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef became a World Heritage Site in 1981.
The Great Barrier Reef brings in about $4 billion to the Australian economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs, so the country would prefer it not be on the endangered list, Reuters reported. Being on the list could mean losing its world heritage status, possibly affecting tourist visits to the site.
Head of Oceans at WWF-Australia Richard Leck said the governments of Australia and Queensland had effectively been “kept… on probation,” but that there was “an opportunity for Australia to lift its game before it is required to provide a progress report to the world heritage committee next year,” as reported by The Guardian.
The possibility that the Great Barrier Reef might be listed as “in danger” was first raised in 2021. Since then the government has been trying to prove to the committee that it is taking care of the reef.
“Lobbying is about telling the truth about what we’re doing,” said Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Water, as CNN reported.
Plibersek said that, since the Labor government came into power last year, millions have been spent on reef management and improvements to water quality, along with the electrification of homes and greenhouse gas emissions targets in order to lower the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change.
More than 411 hard coral species and 1,500 types of fish live in and amongst the majestic reef.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the UNESCO decision does not mean the reef is “in the clear,” emphasizing that more needed to be done in order to make sure it stays off the endangered list.
“The draft decision cites ‘significant progress’ being made on climate change, water quality, and sustainable fishing – all putting the reef on a stronger and more sustainable path,” said Albanese, as reported by Reuters.