Enviro groups want Reef on World Heritage danger list

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (World Heritage)
Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (Image: Shutterstock)

Australia’s leading environmental non-governmental organisations have written an open letter to the members of the World Heritage Committee urging them to add the Great Barrier Reef to the List of World Heritage In Danger to prompt decisive action to protect Australia’s most famous natural icon. 

Led by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and signed by WWF-Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Asia Pacific, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, 350.org Australia, the Wilderness Society, the Climate Council and Queensland Conservation Council, the letter outlines the dangers faced by the global icon from rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification driven by increasing carbon emissions, as well as poor water quality.

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In addition to the four million Australians represented by the environmental NGOs, polling of 1000 Australians representative of the Australian population, commissioned by AMCS, has also shown that:

  • 71 per cent of Australians think the Great Barrier Reef is in danger
  • 83 per cent think it is important that the Reef is on the World Heritage List
  • 77 per cent support the World Heritage Committee putting the Great Barrier Reef on the ‘in Danger’ List to prompt the Australian government to improve its management of the Reef.

The 21-member World Heritage Committee will meet in just over a week to decide whether to ratify UNESCO’s science-based recommendation to add the Reef to the ‘in Danger’ list, due to three severe coral bleaching events in the last five years and slow progress towards achieving water quality targets.

In its draft State of Conservation report released last month, UNESCO called for a Reactive Monitoring Mission to visit Australia to develop a set of ‘corrective measures’ centred around ensuring the new version of the Reef 2050 Plan addresses the threat of climate change and accelerates action to address poor Reef water quality.

In the letter, the organisations welcome UNESCO’s decade-long leadership in overseeing the protection and conservation of the Reef. The groups also welcome the UNESCO report’s acknowledgement that a global average temperature rise of 1.5°C is a crucial threshold for coral reefs.

The letter states: “Global leadership on climate change for the Great Barrier Reef must start with Australia – how else can we expect the world to act with the scale and urgency necessary to protect one of the world’s most iconic World Heritage properties?”

AMCS CEO Darren Kindleysides said: “For the past decade, alarm bells have been ringing for our Reef. The evidence has been mounting from scientists, from the Government’s own agencies and now from UNESCO about the poor outlook for the Reef. The science is clear, our Reef is in danger from global warming and poor water quality and Australians want the government to take strong action to ensure its survival for future generations.”

Australian Youth Climate Coalition national director Alex Fuller said: “As young people, we want to grow up in a world that includes a beautiful, healthy Great Barrier Reef, but our government’s disastrous climate policies put this in danger. We need a rapid, just transition to clean renewable energy to give the Reef and young people a future.”  

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The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee will meet online from July 16-30. The members will consider whether to accept or modify the UNESCO recommendation to place the Reef on the “World Heritage In Danger’ list. The Australian government has said it is lobbying members of the Committee in an attempt to prevent the recommendation from being ratified in its current form.

The NGO letter can be viewed here

The letter follows public praise from five world renowned scientists for UNESCO’s leadership in recognising the threat of climate change to the Great Barrier Reef. The open letter to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay was signed by Professor Andréa Grottoli, Dr Sylvia Earle, Professor Johan Rockström, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Professor Terry Hughes and issued last week.