Australia's Great Barrier Reef is no longer in 'danger' but remains on the watchlist

A Hawksbill sea turtle. Photo: Mark Kolbe/ Getty Images.

A draft ruling by UNESCO early this morning has stopped short of placing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on its “in danger” list.

Findings from the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014 revealed a “poor” outlook for the natural wonder blaming “climate change, poor water quality from land-based run off, impacts from coastal development and some remaining impacts of fishing” as the main threats to the property’s future health.

The draft decision has spared federal and state ministers from a major embarrassment who were reportedly confident that efforts such as large-scale lobbying by the Abbott government and an additional $100 million spent on water quality would restore the reef to its glory days.

Since it was listed on the World Heritage Site 40 years ago, the reef has also lost more than half of its coral cover amidst growing climate change concerns.

“We need to move beyond the gloom and doom to identify how the decline of the Great Barrier Reef can be turned around,” said Professor Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University earlier this year.

“Our paper shows that every major stressor on the Reef has been escalating for decades – more and more fishing, pollution, coastal development, dredging, and now for the past 20 years we’re also seeing the impacts of climate change.”

Amongst the draft decisions, UNESCO has welcomed an additional investment of $200 million to accelerate progress in water quality improvements and a “permanent ban on the dumping of dredged material” inside the reef.

UNESCO has also welcomed Australia’s 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and 5-yearly evaluations which hopes to see an 80% reduction in pollution run-off in the property by 2025.

Despite this, Greenpeace Australia reef campaigner Shani Tager says that “the Australian government can’t talk about protecting the reef while aggressively supporting the licensing of mega-mine and expansion of coal ports along the Great Barrier Reef coast”, according to The Guardian.

“This decision has been described by some as a reprieve for the reef. It is not a reprieve – it is a big, red flag from Unesco,” she said.

All 21 nations in UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet in Germany at the end of next month to decide on the report’s recommendations.

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