30 June 2016


It has been reported this morning that UNESCO may again consider the Great Barrier Reef to be listed as “World Heritage in Danger” in 2017, in the wake of the devastating coral bleaching event that has hit the Reef this year.

According to the Guardian, the Australian Government’s next report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee due on Dec 1 2016 will be expected to explain what is being done to help the Reef recover after bleaching killed 22% of its coral cover, mainly in the far northern section.

Tim Badman, Director of the IUCN World Heritage Programme, which advises the World Heritage Committee, told the Guardian:

“We would expect that report from Australia is going to cover all the significant things that have happened since June 2015 and whether there are changes in the picture of the management or the response that is needed… The bleaching event is a new issue to be considered.”

Mr Badman also told the Guardian the IUCN would decide in the first few months of 2017 whether or not the Reef will be on the agenda at the Committee’s meeting in the middle of that year.

A key issue is whether Australia is providing adequate funding to meet the Reef 2050 Plan’s targets to cut water pollution, which makes corals more vulnerable to bleaching and slows their recovery. Prior to the bleaching event, the World Heritage Committee stated:

“Sustained, adequate financing is central to the plan's performance. The proposed investment framework should be established as a matter of priority and should provide a convincing demonstration that the necessary investment to achieve the plan is being made and will be sustained.”

The news comes on the eve of the Australian election, which will be held this Saturday, 2 July.

For the first time, the Reef has been a top five issue this election. However, neither major party has committed to the level of funding required to turn around the Reef’s decline, and to secure the future of the $6 billion Reef tourism industry.

Scientists have advised that the Reef needs at least $10 billion in funding in the next decade in order to address nitrogen and sediment pollution.

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said:

“Today’s report is a wake-up call for the next Australian Government - the World Heritage Committee will be watching closely to see if we can step up and do what’s needed to protect the Reef."

“The Coalition’s $1 billion loan announcement is an existing climate fund rebadged as a Reef water quality initiative and there is very little information as to how it can accelerate and transform the actions of farmers wanting to improve Reef water quality.”

“Labor’s promise to increase funds by $377 million is a good down payment, but it’s not enough to secure the future of the $6 billion Reef tourism industry."

“The clock is ticking. Our next government needs to redouble efforts to demonstrate to UNESCO and the world that Australia, as the planet’s custodian of the Great Barrier Reef, is prepared to make the difficult choices to keep the Reef out of danger."

“Whichever party wins Government on Saturday – further commitments and action must be delivered if we are to bend the curve of the Reef’s downward trajectory,” he said.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571