A recent draft decision by UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) proposes not to list the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area as “in danger”, but it does pose the important decision in international spotlight.
At this stage, the proposal is merely that – a proposal – until the UNESCO Committee’s meeting in Germany this June, when the actual wording and final decision will be finalised. The Australian government has been lobbying intensely to avoid the negative effects that a world heritage ‘in danger’ listing would have on tourism, however, at a site that attracts two million visitors every year.
In recent years, UNESCO has expressed concern over the impact of climate change, water pollution, dredging for port facilities and fishing on and near the reef. Several conservation projects have popped up in response, including the Australian government submitted its Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (LTSP) this past March.
Many are unsatisfied with these current efforts, arguing that we aren’t doing enough to combat the effects of climate change and human interference. Greenpeace campaigner Shani Tager said that the Greenpeace organisation had hoped the reef would be listed as in danger, as it would send a stronger message to the government.
The decision was good news for Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ), however, with chief executive officer Alex de Waal saying the decision acknowledged Australia had the right environmental credentials to manage the reef’s preservation.
“Tropical North Queensland’s Tourism Industry will continue its vital role in protecting the Great Barrier Reef by participating in conservation initiatives, aiding research and educating the public about the value of this precious environment,” said de Waal.
“We invite visitors to see first-hand just how seriously Tropical North Queensland’s tourism industry takes its role as a guardian of this World Heritage area by visiting the Great Barrier Reef.”
Others also expressed relief that the UNESCO committee had not formally listed the site as ‘in danger’. Dr Nick Graham, a reef expert at James Cook University, said he didn’t think such a move would have helped the conservation of the reef, and Felicity Wishart, reef campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, thinks the ‘in danger’ listing might have led to complacency.