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UNESCO study produces fresh fears over Great Barrier Reef’s health

“The unprecedented nature of three mass coral bleaching events within five years cannot be overstated,” the study says.

“It confirms the urgent need to do all we can to ensure that the Reef can be sustained as a living natural and cultural wonder of the world.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch and member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert at the Great Barrier Reef during the 2017 election campaign.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch and member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert at the Great Barrier Reef during the 2017 election campaign.

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the report had strengthened the section acknowledging the impact of climate change on the reef.

“It also includes a greater focus on climate change, which is the reef’s most serious and pervasive threat,” Ms Enoch said.

The first of five priority areas in the Reef 2050 Plan is the reduction of greenhouse emissions, of which the plan says: “Limit the impacts of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of global efforts to address climate change, fostering partnerships and stewardship to support climate mitigation.”

An effect of climate change is warmer ocean temperatures, which causes coral bleaching.

However the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Australia’s ocean campaigner Richard Leck said the draft strategy did not contain a specific plan to restrict atmospheric temperature increases below 1.5 degrees centigrade.

“The updated plan ignores the elephant in the room. Australia is way off track on achieving a 1.5°C increase and missing an opportunity to be a world leader on renewable energy,” he said.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed in March mass bleaching was spreading south.

It said aerial surveys detected a wide variety of bleaching severity, ranging from no bleaching to the most severe category.

“Some southern areas of the reef that had little or no bleaching in 2016 and 2017 have now experienced moderate or severe bleaching,” it found.

The new reef management plan is the five-year update on the Australian and Queensland governments’ management of the Great Barrier Reef, overseen by UNESCO.

The Great Barrier Reef has been one of UNESCO’s world heritage-listed sites since 1981.

The reef supports about 64,000 jobs and contributes about $6.4 billion to the Australian economy each year, mostly through tourism.

The reef supports about 64,000 jobs and contributes about $6.4 billion to the Australian economy each year, mostly through tourism.

UNESCO in 2015 “noted with concern” at the conclusion of the 2014 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report that the “overall outlook for the property is poor, and that climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development are major threats to the property’s health”.

In 2019 an update from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to UNESCO showed the condition of the reef had deteriorated to “very poor” since 2015 because of coral bleaching, cyclones and sediment flows.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said some improvements had been made since 2015.

“Since the Reef 2050 Plan was launched in 2015, significant progress has been made on improved water quality, crown-of-thorns starfish control, the rehabilitation of island and coastal habitats and the doubling of the on-ground Reef Joint Field Management Program,” Ms Ley said.

Ms Enoch said the plan showed how the money from governments was spent.

“This updated plan will also guide the substantial investment of both governments with more than $2.7 billion committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef over a decade through to 2023-24.”

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