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'Shameful': UNESCO Warns Australia Over Destruction of Great Barrier Reef

'Scathing' report says status will be pulled unless damaging shipping, coal and gas projects are halted

- Beth Brogan, staff writer

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee issued a "scathing" report about the state of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, warning that unless measures are taken to protect the reef from proposed large-scale coal and gas projects, the reef's status as a World Heritage Site could be stripped within months.

The World Heritage status of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is threatened by proposed large-scale coal and gas projects, a UNESCO report warned. (Photograph: The Sydney Morning Herald) In response, on Wednesday the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Marine Conservation Society launched Fight for the Reef, a campaign designed to protect the reef's UNESCO status, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Organizers hope to pressure political leaders to make firm commitments to help prevent further damage to the world's most extensive coral reef system, which is home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk.

In 2011, UNESCO was "sufficiently concerned" about 45 developments proposed along the Queensland coast that it sent a mission to Australia to investigate threats to the reef large-scale coal and gas projects that would boost shipping over the reef from about 4,000 to 7,000, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia's Gladstone Observer reports:

UNESCO, in a scathing report about the state of the reef, warned Australia that at the World Heritage Committee's next meeting in June, they would consider categorising the reef as "in-danger"—the World Heritage 'list of shame'—unless there was decisive action.

Fight for the Reef challenged political leaders to address recommendations of the World Heritage Committee including committing at least $500 million over four years to reverse the decline of water quality in the reef, and stop any future construction of new ports; and stop dredging and dumping on the reef's seabed.

But since the report was issued, no federal funding has been made available to address the situation, according to WWF's reef director Nick Heath.

Campaign director Felicity Wishart said:

Building of new ports, expanding existing ones, dredging the breeding and feeding grounds of marine wildlife, dumping the dredge spoil in the World Heritage Area, and significantly increasing the number of ships is happening now, and there are proposals for even further development.

The resulting UNESCO report is "a really alarming international black mark that we could be tracking towards if we don't lift our game," Wishart told the Morning Herald.

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