Australia vows to protect coral reef after UN panel suggests ‘in danger’ list

Sydney, Australia, Nov 29 (EFE).- Australia Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef after the United Nations cultural agency recommended that the world’s biggest coral reef system be listed as a heritage site “in danger.”

The reef, which spans over 2,300 km (1430 miles) along the northeastern coast of Australia, and was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1981, has become vulnerable to mass bleaching due to the climate crisis.

Continuous bleaching episodes for the past several years have damaged two-thirds of the coral.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek acknowledged that the iconic site that has become one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions was facing a “serious threat.”

She said the government was making all-out efforts to preserve and protect it since the Labor party came to power in May.

A joint report by UNESCO experts and the International Union for Conservation of Nature Monday said warming seas and agricultural pollution had put the reef at risk and that its resilience had been “substantially compromised.”

“The GBR inshore region continues to face multitudinous threats from land-based activities impacting water quality,” the report said.

It acknowledged that “considerable work is underway to address these threats (but) progress is slow, in large part due to the sheer scale of the challenge.”

“The mission recommends that the Great Barrier Reef be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the UN-tasked report said.

The document indicates that the plans and strategies promoted for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef lack clear objectives.

The Australian authorities emphasize that the study, carried out in March, was based on the previous government’s policy, which largely neglected environmental protection and promoted mining.

The minister said the government had done more in six months than the previous did for nine years to protect the reef.

She said the Labor government led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was committed to investing $1.2 billion “to protect, manage, and restore the Great Barrier Reef.”

“We’re investing in projects that will improve water quality and remove marine plastics from the reef. We’re supporting traditional owners to manage their land and sea country,” she said.

She said the government was dedicating $20 million to assist coral evolution and support the natural restoration of damaged reefs and would deliver strong fisheries management to protect the threatened species.

The nonprofit Maritime Conservation Society of Australia called on the government to act “quickly and firmly.”

Environmentalists from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) called for accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources and expanding the areas where net fishing is prohibited to protect the reef.

The World Heritage Committee has expressed concern about the reef’s status since 2010 but avoided classifying it as endangered in 2013 and 2021.

The World Heritage Committee will decide whether the reef should be listed among the “in danger” sites next year.

Before that, UNESCO will have to compile a thorough report with responses from the Australian federal and state governments.

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