Unesco criticises Australia’s decision to allow dredging of Great Barrier Reef

Canberra's decision could lead agency to place it on its 'in danger' list

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 5:09am


Unesco, the UN's heritage body, has heavily criticised an Australian federal government decision that would allow dredging of the Great Barrier Reef, and recommended that it should be placed on its "in danger" list next year unless the reef is protected.

In its first criticism of the decision to allow dredging of the reef, Unesco said the decision was "noted with concern" and that it was made "despite an indication that less impacting disposal alternatives may exist".

The report raised a number of issues regarding the decision to dredge the reef, including the unknown impact of dredge plumes and the transfer of decision-making powers from the federal government to the Queensland government. "Given the range of significant threats affecting the property and the conflicting information about the effectiveness of recent decisions and draft policies, significant concern remains regarding the long-term deterioration of key aspects," the report said.

The earlier assertion by the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, that the dredging proposals met a tough requirement for water quality was called into doubt by the Unesco report.

The report went on to recommend the reef for consideration on the list of "world heritage in danger" sites next year, "in the absence of substantial progress on the key issues addressed above".

The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, told the ABC he was confident the reef would not be listed.

"I'm very confident that between the work we're doing as a state and the work we're doing with our federal counterparts we will not see the reef listed 'in danger'," he said.

"We are committed to protecting the reef. We can continue to operate sensible, environmentally responsible ports adjacent to the reef."

Hunt said on Thursday: "Protection for the Great Barrier Reef is an ongoing challenge and we are confident that we have the processes, resources and environmental protection mechanisms in place to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef continues to be among the best-managed and -protected world heritage areas in the world."

Richard Leck, a reef campaigner for the WWF-Australia, the global conservation body, said the criticism by the world heritage organisation was shared by it and all the other leading environmental communities.

"Unesco's concern is shared by thousands of Australians and hundreds of leading scientists, and we call on the federal government to ban dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area prior to the world heritage committee meeting in June," he said.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society's Great Barrier Reef campaign director, Felicity Wishart, added: "This report overall keeps the pressure on both the federal and Queensland governments to lift their game on reef protection."