World Heritage in danger: Up to 50 % coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef
As UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee prepares to visit Queensland next month, after expressing “extreme concern” at port development and dredging impacts in the World Heritage area, the Australian Government submission to UNESCO claims the Reef was being sustainably managed.
But a recent article, published in the scientific journal Coral Reefs last year, found coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef had declined by up to 50 per cent since the 1960s*. The article cited monitoring that showed coral declines had continued in recent times, decreasing by around a quarter since the Great Barrier Reef was declared a World Heritage site in 1981.
“The Government’s conclusion is simply not supported by the science,” leader of WWF’s Great Barrier Reef program Nick Heath said.
“The Government’s report fails to acknowledge growing evidence that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger, including its own 2009 Outlook Report that warned of ‘catastrophic’ damage.”
“Coral cover has been slashed in half over the past 50 years, over a thousand starving turtles have washed up on Queensland beaches over the past year, rare marine species continue to be killed in fishing nets, and the State Government has been unable to explain high levels of disease in marine life around Gladstone, nor rule out industrial development as the cause.
“It’s hard to see how the Australian Government can claim in its report that the Great Barrier Reef will be passed on to future generations ‘retaining the values for which it was declared a World Heritage Area’,” Mr Heath said.
The government submission, State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, also said LNG development and dredging at Gladstone were thoroughly assessed and had not ‘compromised’ the Reef’s World Heritage Values.
The UNESCO visit in March will put the spotlight squarely on the management of the Great Barrier Reef, and WWF is urging all levels of government to step up and commit to tougher policies on pollution and damaging fishing practices or risk the continuing demise of the World Heritage asset.
To better protect the Great Barrier Reef, WWF wants the next Queensland Government to:
- Cut Reef pollution through greater investment in farm innovation;
- Protect fish stocks, turtles and dugongs by taking fishing nets out of sensitive habitats;
- Save turtles and dugongs from illegal poaching with more Indigenous rangers;
- Establish a new ‘Reef Bank’ to invest money from the mining boom into Reef resilience programs.
*Hughes et al. Shifting base-lines, declining coral cover, and the erosion of reef resilience.
See appendix attached for further references from leading researchers showing a consistent story of reef decline.
Daniel Rockett, Media Officer, WWF-Australia, 0432 206 592