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UNESCO report: Great Barrier Reef not adequately protected

Australia's government is not protecting the Great Barrier Reef enough in the climate crisis, criticizes UNESCO.

Their experts recommend classifying the ecosystem as vulnerable. In the end, it could even be removed from the World Heritage List.

The Great Barrier Reef is in danger of losing its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to inadequate protective measures by the Australian government. Despite unprecedented advances in science and action in recent years, the reef is “significantly affected by climate change factors,” said Eleanor Carter of the environmental organization IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the representative of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Hans Thulstrup, in a report.

The reef’s ability to recover from the effects of global warming is “substantially impaired,” it said. The two experts therefore recommend putting the Great Barrier Reef on the list of endangered World Heritage sites. In this case there would be a risk that the reef would be removed from the UNESCO list.

Carter and Thulstrup criticized the Australian strategy for preserving the reef for the lack of clear climate targets. In addition, some promised safeguards would not be fully implemented, particularly as regards water quality and fisheries.

Like a “band-aid on a broken leg”

The Australian government announced in January that it would invest a total of one billion Australian dollars (equivalent to 649 million euros) in measures to preserve the unique ecosystem over the next nine years. The organization Climate Council explained that this is like putting “a band-aid on a broken leg”.

UNESCO declared the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage Site in 1981. As early as 2015, UNESCO considered classifying the coral reef as an endangered world heritage site for the first time. At the time, the Australian government averted this with a multi-billion dollar protection plan. In July last year, the World Heritage Commission again decided not to classify the Great Barrier Reef as an endangered natural world heritage site for the time being.

Bleach affects corals

Three devastating coral bleaching events have severely affected the Great Barrier Reef since 2016. In May, it was revealed that 91 percent of the reef’s corals had been damaged by coral bleaching as a result of a long summer heatwave. Bleached corals can recover – but only if their living conditions improve.

Corals are living things. Their calcareous skeletons also form habitats for numerous other animals and plants. The Great Barrier Reef is home to around 1500 species of fish and 4000 species of molluscs. It consists of around 2500 different reefs and more than 900 islands.

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