Australia affirms support for conservation of Great Barrier Reef

Canberra tells Unesco it has made progress in adopting heritage committee’s advice

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 4:02am


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Australia insisted yesterday that protecting the Great Barrier Reef was a top priority, but conservationists WWF said not enough had been done to prevent Unesco deeming it a world heritage site "in danger".

In June, Unesco demanded decisive action from Australia to protect the world's largest coral reef from a gas and mining boom and increasing coastal development, or risk the embarrassment of seeing it put on the danger list.

The deadline it gave Canberra to outline how it planned to improve management and protection and meet key targets recommended by the World Heritage Committee ran out yesterday.

In releasing its response to Unesco, Environment Minister Tony Burke said the government was "absolutely committed" to protecting the reef.

"We have made substantial progress in addressing the recommendations made by the World Heritage Committee, including agreement to conduct one of the most comprehensive strategic assessments ever undertaken in Australia," Burke said.

He said the response highlighted Australia's "best practices in marine park management and confirms our willingness to share our expertise with other countries experiencing similar conservation issues".

Burke said Canberra had already invested A$200 million (HK$1.6 billion) in a "Reef Rescue" programme and would provide an additional A$800,000 to fight the destructive crown-of-thorns starfish, which was devastating the reef.

But the WWF, along with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said Australia had failed to show sufficient progress.

WWF campaign director Richard Leck said his organisation had kept a scorecard on how the federal and Queensland state governments had responded to the World Heritage Committee's list of recommendations.

"The dismal scores highlight our grave concerns that Unesco is going to have no option, but to recommend the reef be put on its unenviable 'List of World Heritage in Danger' - the list of shame … Australia's reputation is on the line," Leck said.