A heritage committee of the UNESCO cultural agency stopped short of placing Australia's Great Barrier Reef on an "in danger" list, but the ruling on Friday raised long-term concerns about its future.
UNESCO's world heritage body, based in Paris, commissioned an expert report on the threats to the reef, including climate change, pollution run-off from the mainland and continuing coastal development.
In a draft decision published late on Friday the World Heritage Committee welcomed commitments by the Australian federal government and Queensland state governments to reduce pollution run-off by 80 per cent by 2025, to restrict new port development in the area and limit dredging, and to reverse an earlier decision to dump dredge material near the reef.
Earlier this month, Australia this month said it would more than double an area near the Great Barrier Reef subject to special curbs on shipping by including large areas of the adjacent Coral Sea in the restricted area.
Greenpeace: Reef is not safe
The environmental group Greenpeace viewed the Heritage Committee decision as "a big, red flag from UNESCO," Shani Tager, Greenpeace Australia Reef campaigner told Reuters. "By insisting that the Australian government prepare a report within 18 months ... UNESCO has clearly shown that the Great Barrier Reef is not fine and is not safe in Tony Abbott’s hands," she said of the Australian prime minister.
Professor Terry Hughes from James Cook University in north Queensland told ABC News there could be no doubt the reef faced serious threats. But he also said the Queensland and Commonwealth governments were making moves towards change. "The Government is making some progress towards managing the reef better and I think Unesco's decision will be to encourage that progression," he said.
There's no doubt that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger, but I don't think we're quite at that stage yet.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, University of Queensland