Bans on dredge disposal at sea, restrictions on port expansion, and an AUD100 million (USD765,000) government lobbying campaign have convinced the United Nations World conservation agency to recommend keeping Australia’s Great Barrier Reef off the endangered list – for now.
While government and industry have hailed the decision, environmentalists say Australia is still on probation. The government will have to provide an update on its Great Barrier Reef 2050 strategy in 2017, ahead of a five-year review in 2020 under the draft decision.
Meanwhile, the UNESCO recommendation will go to 21 nations at the upcoming 39th session of the World Heritage Committee at its annual meeting held in Bonn, Germany, which begins on 28 June.
Today’s announcement is widely seen as recognition of the Australian government allocating AUD240 million extra funding for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park projects and greater restrictions on shipping, dredging, and ports.
Australia’s North East Shipping Management Plan, released last year, strengthened regulations governing its multibillion-dollar coal and liquid bulk shipments out through the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, and Coral Sea. Its Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, also released last year, limited port expansion and dredging, other than maintenance dredging, to the five key coal ports of Abbot Point, Hay Point, Mackay, Townsville and Gladstone adjoining the Reef. This year both federal and state governments banned the placement of all dredging material offshore in the vicinity of the Reef.
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It was the latter decision that is said to have swayed UNESCO the most to recommend taking the Reef off the watch list.
“Measures that represent significant progress in responding to key World Heritage Committee requests include commitments toward restoring water quality … restricting major port development in and adjoining the GBR World Heritage Area … [Australia reversing] its original decision to dump capital dredge material from Abbot Point inside the property and a permanent ban on dumping of dredged material from all capital dredging projects within the property,” a statement read.
UNESCO first considered putting the Reef on the endangered list after dredging and port expansion at Gladstone in readiness for the Curtis Island AUD65 billion LNG project created major environmental issues.