Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be listed as an “in danger” world heritage site, a UN panel of experts recommended on Tuesday, saying the ecosystem, the world’s largest, has been significantly affected by climate change and of ocean warming.
Frequent bleaching phenomena threaten the reef. Bleaching occurs when the water gets too warm, causing the corals to expel the colored algae living in their tissues and turn white. Corals can survive a bleaching episode, but it can stop their growth and affect their reproduction.
“The resilience (of the reef) to recover from the impacts of climate change is substantially compromised,” said a report by scientists from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who visited the reef in March.
Australia disagrees with listing of Great Barrier Reef ‘in danger’
The report was due to be published ahead of a meeting of UNESCO’s world heritage committee in June, scheduled to take place in Russia but postponed due to the war in Ukraine. The dates for the next meeting have not yet been set.
Although efforts to tackle climate change have intensified in recent times, particularly with regard to coral restoration research, there is an “urgent need” to save the reef, the report said.
Canberra has been lobbying for years to keep the reef – which contributes A$6.4 billion to the economy – off the endangered list as it could lead to it losing its heritage status, which it would diminish its attraction for tourists.
The reef off the northeast coast of Australia provided 64,000 jobs
Before COVID-19, about two million tourists visited the reef off Australia’s northeast coast each year, according to official figures, providing jobs for 64,000 people.
Last year, Australia avoided listing the reef as “at risk” after intense lobbying by the previous government prompted UNESCO to delay a decision until this year.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the government would pressure UNESCO not to list the reef as “in danger” because climate change threatens all coral reefs around the world.
Australia’s Labor government plans to spend $800 million to protect the reef
Australia’s newly elected Labor government has pledged to spend A$1.2 billion ($800 million) over the next few years to protect the reef. In September, parliament passed legislation for net zero emissions by 2050.
The independent Great Barrier Reef Foundation said it was already aware of the range of threats identified in the UN report, but that the recommendation to add the reef to the endangered list was premature.