24 June 2015


A poll conducted in six countries across the globe in the lead up to the historic UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting being held in Bonn, Germany at the end of this month reveals widespread opposition to industrial destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. The poll also identifies potential risks for the Australian tourism industry if the health of the Reef does not improve.

Released today by WWF, the poll of 6,000 people from Korea, Colombia, Poland, Finland, Germany and the UK by research firm YouGov highlights that a large majority (64 per cent) of people from these countries are either “outraged” or “concerned” by planned industrial expansion of the Reef - the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem.

Five of the countries polled currently sit on the 21 member World Heritage Committee.

When asked what actions they would support their governments’ taking at the upcoming World Heritage meeting, over three-quarters of respondents chose “calling on UNESCO to maintain strong oversight of the condition of the Reef until its health has been secured” (77 per cent). A clear majority also wanted their country to declare support for the protection of the Reef (73 per cent) and to hold the Australian government accountable (70 per cent).

Two-thirds (67 per cent) supported directly calling on the Australian Government to significantly increase protection for the Reef, even if this creates diplomatic tensions or has negative consequences for trade.

Plans to allow industrialisation near the Reef have resulted in reputational damage to those involved, according to the survey. A majority of those polled now have a more negative opinion of the Australian government (58 per cent), the companies carrying out industrial activities around the Great Barrier Reef (65 per cent), and the banks underwriting them (60 per cent).

Eighty-three per cent expressed concern about the Great Barrier Reef being damaged by industrial activities, such as the expansion of megaports and increases in shipping traffic. Respondents ranked pollution and industrialisation as the two greatest threats to natural World Heritage Sites globally.

“We know that the overwhelming majority of Australians want protection for Reef. In the lead up to a critical World Heritage decision that will determine its future, we have now learnt that there are similar levels of concern for the Reef in communities across the globe,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO, WWF-Australia.

“More than half of those surveyed abroad say that industrial activities impacting World Heritage Sites should not be allowed, and that they want their government to ensure that companies in their country adhere to standards for responsible business conduct in World Heritage Sites."

“This survey shows that people want their national leaders, the international community and their fellow citizens to safeguard World Heritage Sites like the Reef. When the guardians of these precious places meet next week, we urge them to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef and sites like it are safe from industrial threats in the future.”

When it comes to tourism, one-fifth (21 per cent) of respondents said they would be less likely to visit Australia as a result of the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. The key tourism market of South Korea – one of the top 10 countries for visitor numbers to Australia in 2013/2014* - was most likely to say this at 27 per cent. Respondents from the UK, ranked third in 2013/14 for visitor numbers to Australia, stated this at 18%.

“We all want to ensure a strong and thriving future for our Reef tourism industry, which is worth $6 billion a year,” said Mr O’Gorman.

“The Reef is an asset that 70,000 tourism jobs depend on. Ensuring the highest level of protection for it makes both economic and environmental sense."

“Delivering real improvements in the health of the Reef is the best way for the Australian Government to ensure international visitors keep contributing to our lucrative Reef tourism industry.”

Editor's notes: 

  • *Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3401.0 - Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia, Jun 2014
  • The poll was commissioned by WWF International and conducted by market research agency YouGov Plc.
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 6,134 adults from Korea, Colombia, Poland, Finland, Germany and the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14 and 26 May 2015. Data have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 18+) in each country.
  • The survey was carried out online.
  • A copy of YouGov’s report containing the full poll results and survey methodology is available by request.
  • YouGov is registered with the UK Information Commissioner and is a member of the British Polling Council.
  • Korea, Colombia, Poland, Finland, Germany are members of the 2015 UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
  • UK is a contracting party to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Rachael Bruzzese, WWF-Australia