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UNESCO Barrier Reef report says ‘outstanding values’ have worsened

On Monday, the federal government’s State Party Report to UNESCO’s world heritage committee made three significant findings on Australia’s progress since 2015 to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

First, it found mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, six tropical cyclones, flooding, and a coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak had “impacted the outstanding universal values” of the reef.

The Great Barrier Reef's Marine Park Authority climate change scientists inspect the reef near Lizard Island.

The Great Barrier Reef’s Marine Park Authority climate change scientists inspect the reef near Lizard Island. Credit:Sandy Scheltema

Second, it reported that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had found the long-term outlook for the reef’s ecosystem had “deteriorated from poor to very poor”, as previously reported.

It also found climate change, especially the rise in sea temperature, remained the most serious and pervasive threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

It traces policy initiatives under the federal government’s Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and acknowledges it is crucial to keep atmospheric temperature increases to 1.5 degrees.

“Concerted global action to limit global warming is needed to turn around the deteriorating outlook for the Great Barrier Reef – and all other coral reefs,” the report says.

“We are actively managing the pressures over which we have direct control through investment and regulation based on the best available science.”

Reef funding

  • The Australian government – $1.9 billion over 10 years
  • The Queensland government –  $820 million over 10 years
  • Queensland local governments – about $200 million in stormwater management.

The report met with a muted response from the Greens and conservation groups.


Greens deputy leader Larissa Waters described the report as “an exercise in spin” and said not enough action was being taken in Australia to reduce climate change.

“The World Heritage Committee gave Australia homework four years ago, to show why the reef shouldn’t be listed as ‘in danger’,” she said.

“In that time, half the coral cover of the reef has bleached to death and its outlook has been downgraded to ‘very poor’, while the federal government has refused to address climate change and has questioned reef water science. They have failed their homework.”

Australian Marine Conservation Society director of strategy Imogen Zethoven said Australia needed to encourage other nations to reduce emissions to reduce atmospheric temperature increases.

“It is in Australia’s interest to play a leading role in getting the world to act, and the only way it can do that is by acting at home while urging other countries to follow our example,” Ms Zethoven said.

“The report states that 1.5 degrees is widely cited as a critical threshold for the reef, but it doesn’t commit Australia to do our fair share of global emissions reduction to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade,” she said.

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