By Ben Westcott, NCS

The Australian authorities and a United Nations physique are dealing with off this week over whether or not the Great Barrier Reef is “in danger” of dropping its “outstanding universal value.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Committee is scheduled to vote on Friday on whether or not the reef, which is on the World Heritage List, must be formally labeled as “in danger.” The designation means the location is below menace, and if motion isn’t taken to deal with issues, it might lose its World Heritage status.

Australia has desperately tried to avoid that state of affairs via a flurry of final minute lobbying, together with taking ambassadors on a snorkeling journey to the reef.

Its efforts might have paid off. Twelve out of the 21 nations on the Committee appeared to be against making use of the “in danger” rating to the Barrier Reef, in accordance to a proposed modification posted to the UNESCO website on Tuesday.

But stress to impose the rating remains to be coming from scientists and celebrities, with a letter printed the identical day signed by 13 public figures — actors, former politicians and journalists — pushing the committee to “endorse UNESCO’s recommendation.”

“There is still time to save the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia and the world must act now,” reads the letter, signed by “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa and ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau, amongst others.

Battle for the reef

The Great Barrier Reef spans practically 133,000 sq. miles (345,000 sq. kilometers) off Australia’s northeastern coast and is residence to greater than 1,600 species of fish and 600 species of sentimental and laborious corals. An important marine ecosystem, it additionally contributes $6.4 billion yearly to Australia’s financial system and helps 64,000 jobs, in accordance to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

But a sequence of pure disasters and the rising results of local weather change have severely impacted the reef, together with widespread coral bleaching. An Australian authorities five-year survey in 2019 discovered the situation of the pure marvel had deteriorated from “poor” to “very poor.”

In a report published on June 21, a UNESCO monitoring mission stated that regardless of the Australian authorities’s work to enhance the reef’s scenario, “there is no possible doubt that the property is facing ascertained danger.”

But the Australian authorities has strongly objected to UNESCO’s conclusion. Environment Minister Sussan Ley flew to Europe in July as a part of a last-ditch try to persuade the opposite 20 members of the World Heritage to vote against the measure. Australia is presently a part of the 21-country rotating committee.

Last week, Australia’s official reef ambassador Warren Entsch took quite a few ambassadors, together with a quantity from nations voting on the World Heritage Committee, to the Great Barrier Reef for a snorkeling trip.

In an modification proposed on Tuesday, 12 nations on the committee, together with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Spain, appeared to again a suggestion to not impose an “in danger” rating on the Barrier Reef, however no remaining determination has been made.

In an announcement, a spokesman for Ley stated whereas in France she had met delegates from quite a few nations.

“Australia’s position remains that the Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world, supported by more than $3 billion of Commonwealth and State Government funding. Australia is concerned that the draft listing process did not include appropriate levels of consultation or a reactive mission,” the spokesman stated.

But Dr. Fanny Douvere, head of the World Heritage Center’s Marine Programme, defended the “in danger” rating as “unbiased” and “scientifically-based.”

She stated irrespective of how the World Heritage Council voted on Friday, UNESCO’s draft determination that the reef was “in danger” would nonetheless symbolize their thought of opinion.

“The evidence is not something that we’re investigating, the evidence is something that is very clearly described,” she stated.

“It would simply not have been credible not to alert the international community about the situation.”

An alert to the world

UNESCO’s World Heritage List incorporates tons of of web sites deemed to be of nice worth to future generations, from pure wonders comparable to Yellowstone National Park within the US to cultural wonders just like the Great Wall of China.

Every yr the World Heritage Committee meets to resolve whether or not to add new properties to the record and to consider whether or not any of the present ones are at danger.

For instance, when it meets this month, the World Heritage Committee may also resolve whether or not or not to place Venice on the “in danger” list, due to a spread of threats to the historic metropolis together with giant cruise ships.

According to the UNESCO website, out of the 1,121 properties on the World Heritage List, solely 53 are presently rated as “in danger” — these embody the Everglades National Park in Florida, additionally dealing with local weather change-related issues, and the location of Palmyra in Syria.

Douvere from the Marine Programme stated an “in danger” itemizing sends a sign to the worldwide group that the sovereign nation liable for that property is struggling to preserve it and desires help. UNESCO will then work with the nation to decide what wants to occur to make sure the Heritage Listed-site is rescued.

“It’s a serious decision, it’s not something we take overnight … It is really an alert to the international community that a place that is on the World Heritage List, something we want to preserve for future generations … is losing its outstanding universal value,” she stated.

This isn’t the primary time the Great Barrier Reef has been at danger of being added to the “in danger” list, however the Australian authorities nonetheless stated it was “stunned” at the location’s inclusion in UNESCO’s June report.

“This draft recommendation has been made without examining the reef first hand, and without the latest information,” Ley stated in an announcement at the time.

In the previous, “in danger” scores have been lifted after the related authorities addressed points raised by UNESCO.

For instance, the world’s second largest coral reef, the Belize Barrier Reef, was no longer considered “in danger” after the federal government imposed a moratorium on oil exploration within the space and strengthened forestry legal guidelines to shield native mangroves.

Scientists help ‘in danger’ rating

The Australian authorities has backed up its insistence the reef just isn’t at risk with a brand new report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, launched on Monday, which confirmed an enhance in laborious coral in three areas of the Great Barrier Reef over the previous yr.

“The last couple of years have revealed that recovery is underway across much of the GBR, a promising sign illustrating that the GBR still has the capacity and necessary ecological functions to recover from disturbances,” stated the report.

But outstanding Australian scientists stated the brand new coral progress is fragile and backed the transfer by UNESCO to put the Great Barrier Reef on the “in danger” record.

Scott Heron, an affiliate professor in physics at Queensland’s James Cook University, stated it was “very clear” to him the reef was in deep trouble.

“The threats that the Great Barrier Reef is facing are serious, they have been ongoing and there has not been an achievement of the goals that were set,” he stated. Heron stated though some coral had returned after bleaching occasions lately, a whole lot of the regrowth was a quick rising selection which was notably vulnerable to warmth stress and demise.

“This one year’s worth of information is a variability that looked at alone would mask the longer term trend of decline,” he stated.

In an announcement to NCS, Minister Ley’s spokesman stated the Australian authorities opposed the “in danger” rating, “not only because of our concern in relation to the Reef, but because we believe the process risks damaging the integrity of the World Heritage System.”

But Lesley Hughes, spokeswoman for the Climate Council and a distinguished professor of Biology at Macquarie University, stated she believed the Australian authorities was additionally involved about being embarrassed over its poor file on local weather change.

In a report launched by the UN in July, assessing progress in reaching the worldwide sustainable growth objectives, Australia was ranked last for climate action.

“So while the government is pointing to the amount of money they spent on local adaptation (on the Barrier Reef), they are still not serious and have never been serious about dealing with climate change,” Hughes stated.

“An ‘in danger’ listing of the reef will just draw more attention internationally to the government’s failure in that respect.”

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NCS’s Helen Regan contributed to this text.

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