June 3rd 2012
Threat of "World Heritage in Danger" listing for Reef
UNESCO has put the Queensland and Australian governments on notice over coastal development affecting the Outstanding Universal Values of the Great Barrier Reef. And, if substantial progress is not made by next year, The Great Barrier Reef may be be listed as, “World Heritage in Danger.”
“The report was direct and strong and validated the long-held concerns of the community,” said North Queensland Conservation Council Coordinator, Wendy Tubman.
“It made no bones about the potential impact on the area from what it described as ‘the unprecedented scale of coastal development currently being proposed," she said, confirming what environmentalists have been saying for some time.
The report focusses particularly on the water quality, “which is the principal driver of the decline in the inshore areas,” and recommends that Australia, "should not permit any new port development outside of the existing and long established major port areas,” and, "that development within major port areas is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on Outstanding Universal Value."
Much of the concerns are focussed on ports and infrastructure at Gladstone harbour and Curtis Island where they highlighted views from stakeholders over, “reduced water quality from dredging, inadequate independent, scientific oversight in monitoring water quality, suggested lack of government response when water quality targets are exceeded, impact on traditional use, and lack of satisfaction regarding procedures for public consultation and transparency.”
Magnetic Island-based Principal Research Scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Dr Katharina Fabricius, told Magnetic Times, "Dredging and agricultural run-off can both affect the water quality around inshore reefs. Both increase turbidity, making the water dark, and release nutrients which can boost the growth of seaweed. Sediments and seaweed can smother corals and make it much harder for young corals to survive. Corals can die within 36 hours when they are exposed to sediments that are enriched with nutrients. Both dredging and runoff can also cause the loss of seagrass," she said.
Reef corals choked and smothered by nutrient-triggered weed
According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society Director, Darren Kindleysides, said, “Vessel traffic through Australia’s World Heritage reef is projected to increase five-fold by 2020, turning the Great Barrier Reef into a shipping superhighway. The risk shipping poses was thrown into the spotlight just weeks ago when the 26,000 tonne cargo vessel the MV Integrity lost power and drifted for 40 hours in the Coral Sea outside the Great Barrier Reef coming perilously close to crashing into Shark Reef".
Online activist group, GetUp claimed that an opinion poll “found 79 per cent of Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef's recognised heritage area -- and that was before UNESCO's scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.”
GetUp is planning a new ad campaign to run in the key financial markets of Asia and India -- warning potential investors not to touch these projects. (Click here)
“This is a massive wake-up call for the Australian government; it shows that international experts are in accord with the community in saying that the Great Barrier Reef just cannot take any more pressure,” Ms Tubman said.
Story: George Hirst
Photos: Courtesy of Dr Katharina Fabricius
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