The Great Barrier Reef stays off UNESCO's in-danger list but is still being watched

Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided not to list the Great Barrier Reef on its “in-danger” list.

However, the committee says the overall outlook for the reef is poor and that “climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development” are major threats.

The 21-nation members met in Bonn, Germany, and confirmed the findings of a draft report released last month.

The ruling comes three years after the committee first foreshadowed adding the reef to the in-danger list.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, in Bonn to give Australia’s long-term commitment to the reef, said:

“This is great news for Australia. It’s great news for Queensland. And it’s great news for the Great Barrier Reef.”

The reef will be on a watch list and Australia will be asked to report regularly on progress of the 2050 Reef Plan and to show that it has the funds to achieve targets.

“The pressure for Australia to improve its protection of the Reef has certainly not gone away,” says Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies at James Cook University.

He says the World Heritage Committee’s decision was strongly influenced by breakthroughs in just the past few weeks to curb the number of ports along the Queensland coast and to ban dumping at sea of capital dredge spoil.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, says the decision recognises the work done by the Queensland and Federal Governments in convincing the world they are intent on reversing the decline at the reef.

“Much now needs to be done – especially on achieving the targets that have been set in terms of reducing sediment and nutrient run-off,” says Hoegh-Guldberg. “If we can solve these two, then the greatest threat facing the reef in the short term will be averted,” he said.

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