(NewsMadura) — The Australian government and a United Nations body are faced this week with the question of whether the Great Barrier Reef is “in danger” of losing its “outstanding universal value”.
Australia has desperately tried to avoid that scenario through a flurry of last-minute lobbying, including taking ambassadors on a snorkeling trip to the reef.
His efforts may have paid off. Twelve of the 21 countries on the committee appeared against applying the “at risk” classification to the Barrier Reef, according to a proposed change posted on the UNESCO site on Tuesday.
Fish swim through the coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on September 22, 2014.
William West/AFP/Getty Images
“There is still time to save the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia and the world must act now,” reads the letter, signed by Aquaman actor Jason Momoa and ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau, among others.
Battle for the Reef
But the Australian government has strongly objected to UNESCO’s conclusion. Environment Minister Sussan Ley flew to Europe in July as part of a last-ditch effort to convince the other 20 World Heritage members to vote against the measure. Australia is currently part of the rotating committee of 21 countries.
In an amendment proposed Tuesday, 12 countries in the committee, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Spain, appeared to support a suggestion not to impose a “at risk” rating on the Barrier Reef, but no final decision has been made.
In a statement, a Ley spokesperson said she had met delegates from a number of countries in France.
Australia’s stance remains that the Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world, supported by more than $3 billion in Commonwealth and state government funding. includes,” the spokesperson said.
But dr. Fanny Douvere, head of the World Heritage Center’s Marine Program, defended the “at risk” rating as “unbiased” and “scientifically based.”
She said no matter how the World Heritage Council voted on Friday, UNESCO’s draft decision that the reef… “at risk” would still represent their considered opinion.
“The evidence is not something that we examine, the evidence is something that is described very clearly,” she said.
“It just wouldn’t have been credible not to inform the international community about the situation.”
A warning to the world
UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes hundreds of sites considered to be of great value to future generations, from natural wonders like Yellowstone National Park in the US to cultural wonders like the Great Wall of China.
Each year, the World Heritage Committee meets to decide whether new properties should be added to the list and to evaluate whether any of the current properties are at risk.
Douvere of the Marine Program said an “at risk” list is a signal to the international community that the sovereign nation responsible for that property is struggling to maintain it and needs help. UNESCO will then work with the country to determine what needs to be done to ensure that the listed site is saved.
“It’s a serious decision, it’s not something we take overnight… It’s really a warning to the international community that a World Heritage Site is something we want to preserve for future generations.” … universal value,” she says.
“This draft recommendation has been made without having examined the reef first-hand and without the latest information,” Ley said in a statement at the time.
In the past, “at risk” classifications have been lifted after the relevant authorities addressed issues cited by UNESCO.
Scientists support ‘at risk’ classification
“The past few years have shown that recovery is underway in much of the GBR, a promising sign illustrating that the GBR still has the capacity and necessary ecological functions to recover from disturbances,” the report said.
But prominent Australian scientists said the new coral growth is fragile and supported UNESCO’s move to put the Great Barrier Reef on its “at risk” list.
Scott Heron, an associate professor of physics at James Cook University in Queensland, said it was “very clear” to him that the reef was in serious trouble.
“The threats facing the Great Barrier Reef are serious, they are ongoing and the targets set have not been achieved,” he said. Heron said that while some coral had returned from bleaching in recent years, much of the regrowth was a fast-growing variety that was particularly susceptible to heat stress and death.
“This year’s information is a variability that would only mask the longer-term trend of decline,” he said.
In a statement to NewsMadura, Minister Ley’s spokesman said the Australian government opposed the classification “at risk” “not just because of our concerns about the reef, but because we believe the process could damage the integrity of the World Heritage system.”
But Lesley Hughes, spokeswoman for the Climate Council and a leading professor of biology at Macquarie University, said she believed the Australian government was also concerned about its poor record on climate change.
“So while the government points to the amount of money they have spent on local adaptation (on the Barrier Reef), they still don’t take it seriously and have never been serious about dealing with climate change,” Hughes said.
“An ‘at risk’ list of the reef will only draw more international attention to the failure of the government in that regard.”
Helen Regan of NewsMadura contributed to this article.