UNESCO Says The Great Barrier Reef Isn't 'In Danger' And Experts Are Divided

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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) just released its 'List of World Heritage in Danger', and it has one notable omission. The Great Barrier Reef.

Australian experts have spoken out about the exclusion.

Dr Hugh Sweatman, Senior Research Scientist and Leader of the Long-term Monitoring Program for coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

Over the past 12 months hard coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef declined by about a quarter, bringing average reef-wide coral cover down to 18 per cent.These findings are based on surveys of 68 mainly mid- and outer-shelf reefs to March 2017, and do not yet include the impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie or the further intense coral bleaching in 2017.

In general, the impacts of coral bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks differ along the 1,500 km length of the Reef. In a longer term context, the scale of the coral cover decline in the northern GBR since 2013 is unprecedented, first due to two severe cyclones and then the severe coral bleaching event which began in 2016.

In contrast, due to the proliferation of fast growing coral species and the absence of major disturbances, reefs in the Southern GBR continued to recover during the reporting period.

Anna Marsden, Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation

We welcome this decision from UNESCO which recognises much is being done to reduce pressures on the Great Barrier Reef - however with so much to lose, more needs to be done.

It is clear everyone must step up and do more to protect our global treasure.

UNESCO acknowledges our Great Barrier Reef, as we’ve seen with reefs worldwide, it is a system under serious pressure due to the impacts of climate change.

We must do everything we can to boost resilience investing in strategies for its long-term conservation.

Our focus continues to remain on mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

We need to buy the Reef time as the world works to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement.

Dr David Suggett, Associate Professor, ARC Future Fellow and leader of the Coral Physiology Processes Group within the Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney

The UNESCO outcome (and the “win” for the Government(s)) entirely detracts from climate change and the impacts it has brought. We have lost an unprecedented amount of coral from two years of back-to-back coral bleaching. This will continue to happen unless we can tackle climate change, so to say that the reef is no longer “in danger” could easily be misleading.

I am concerned that the outcome infers the reef is “OK”, when it is, in fact, worse than ever; having witnessed the catastrophic effects of this bleaching on the coral communities in the northern sector of the reef first hand in June, the GBR is not OK.

On a more positive note perhaps, we can logically infer that the reef simply cannot take any more impacts. Clearly, if there have been ‘wins' for improved water quality that enables the GBR to avoid being placed ‘in danger’, any future developments, such as the Adani mine, will of course entirely undermine this victory.

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