Darren Jew

UNESCO raises new fears on Great Barrier Reef

PRESSURE is rising on the Federal and Queensland governments to do more to protect the Great Barrier Reef, after UNESCO has raised new concerns about dumping of dredge spoil at Abbot Point and the approval of a fourth LNG plant at Curtis Island.

The latest recommendation from the World Heritage Committee was released overnight and puts Australia on notice that without further action, it will put the reef on its World Heritage Sites in Danger list next year.

Among the concerns cited were four new approvals made by the Abbott Government despite the strategic assessment of the reef not being completed, as well as a lack of progress on changes to the governance of the reef and environmental regulations.

While the committee welcomed some progress made in the strategic assessment to date, it has further urged the government to put in place new legislation to protect "greenfields" areas from coastal development, including port expansions.

It further noted that despite promises that a 150% net benefit for water quality could be achieved as part of the Abbot Point proposal, it was of particular concerns "given evidence suggesting that the inshore reefs in the southern two-thirds of the property are not recovering from disturbances over the past few decades".

"The further approval on Curtis Island adds to concerns addressed in previous Committee decisions," the report reads.

"It is crucial that the mission recommendation regarding institutional and management arrangements (R11) is completed and that the eventual governance of the property carries the confidence of stakeholders.

"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 of the OUV of the property, and the completion of work to tackle short- and long-term threats.

"Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee consider, in the absence of substantial progress on the key issues addressed above, the inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 39th session in 2015."

The federal and state governments are yet to respond to the report.

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