Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1981. The world’s largest reef system can be found off the coast of northeastern Australia and is made up of 900 islands and 2,900 individual reefs.
According to Geoscience Australia, the massive reef system is Earth’s “biggest single structure made by living organisms.” It’s not just made by organisms; the reef is alive, composed of microscopic, highly sensitive coral polyps.
While these polyps colonies are visible from space, they are highly susceptible to a number of manmade dangers. UNESCO, which is the education, science, and culture driven wing of the United Nations, recently reviewed whether or not the Great Barrier Reef should be included on its List of World Heritage in Danger.
UNESCO’s report notes that groundwater pollution, marine transport infrastructure, non-renewable energy facilities, temperature change, and the grounding of ships are all threats to the health of the 1,400-mile-long reef.
This review of the status of the Great Barrier Reef isn’t all bad news, though. The UN danger-evaluators pointed the valuable strategies outlined in Australia’s Reef 2050 Plan, which “outlines concrete management measures for the next 35 years to ensure the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef is preserved now and for generations to come.”
UNESCO recognizes the value of this 35-year plan and its “efforts to reduce pressures affecting the property, provide an integrated vision for its future protection, and establish concerted management cooperation across different levels of government.”
But, the UN stresses, “despite the positive achievements in the Plan’s inception and the establishment of the Investment Strategy, progress towards achieving water quality targets has been slow, and the most immediate water quality targets set out in the 2050 [Plan] are not expected to be achieved within the foreseen timeframe.”
The World Heritage Centre formally recommends speeding up the Plan’s efforts to ensure that its ambitious goals are met on time. The UN particularly points to the need to improve water quality and to formally pass “land clearing” legislation outlined in the Plan.
The evaluating committee stressed its concern about recent bleaching events that have plagued the massive reef, but that same committee seems content to give the Reef 2050 Plan a chance to succeed before putting the 133,000-square-mile reef system on the official “In Danger” list.
The draft decision, released in June of this year, expressed “its appreciation for the significant efforts by all those involved in the implementation of the 2050 [Plan].”
The Committee also “strongly encourages [Australia] to accelerate efforts to ensure meeting the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, which are essential to the overall resilience of the property, in particular regarding water quality.”
From there, the World Heritage Committee requests a progress report
So, this is not the best of news— because the Great Barrier Reef is still vulnerable to a number of manmade and natural threats—but at least there is a viable plan in place to protect the beloved, vast reef system.
Let’s hope the Australian government truly throws its weight behind implementing this invaluable Plan so that the Great Barrier Reef can stay off of the “In Danger” list.