Australia obtained, Friday July 23, that Unesco does not proceed to the inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on its list of the sites of the World Heritage in danger, in spite of the concern of the scientific community on the degradation of this unique ecosystem.
Two-thirds of the Great Barrier are estimated to have suffered in one way or another. In addition to global warming or cyclones, it is threatened by industrial or agricultural activities or by the purple acanthaster, an invasive starfish.
The World Heritage Committee decided to postpone such a decision after intense lobbying from Australia. Being on the list of endangered sites is not considered a sanction by Unesco, and some countries even see it as a means of raising awareness in the international community and contributing to the safeguarding of their heritage.
Australia, on the contrary, perceived this eventuality as a slap in the face, fearing that it would undermine the tourist attraction of the coral reef, which stretches over 2,300 kilometers and generates 4.8 billion dollars in revenue per year. for the Australian tourism sector.
Request for a new assessment mission
“I would like to sincerely thank the distinguished delegates for recognizing Australia’s commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef”Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the committee, according to a statement.
Currently meeting online under the chairmanship of Tian Xuejun, Chinese vice minister of education and chairman of the Chinese National Commission for Unesco, the committee felt that Australia should be given more time to take stock. on its efforts to conserve the Great Barrier, listed in 1981 as World Heritage.
Committee members, including China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, have also asked Unesco to send an assessment mission to the site, after criticism from Canberra accusing the organization of relying on existing reports to make recommendations.
The United Nations agency published in June the recommendations of its experts and advisory bodies suggesting that this ecosystem be placed on the list of sites in danger due to its deterioration, largely due to the recurrence of episodes of coral bleaching, consequence of climatic upheavals.
A first reprieve obtained in 2015
Tim Badman, director of the World Heritage program at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said the Great Barrier filled ” without ambiguity “ the criteria for being on the list of endangered sites. “Despite the major efforts made by the State Party, the status of invaluable universal value of the Great Barrier Reef and the prospects for recovery have both deteriorated significantly”, he said.
In 2015, Australia had already obtained a reprieve after a similar lobbying campaign and by promising billions of dollars in investments to protect the reefs. Since then, the whole has suffered badly due to three very serious episodes of coral bleaching.
Bleaching is a wasting phenomenon which results in discoloration. It is caused by the rise in water temperature – a consequence of global warming – which causes the expulsion of symbiotic algae that give the coral its bright color. Australian government scientists have claimed that many reefs have been showing signs of recovery in recent times, while acknowledging that the future outlook for the coral set is very poor.
Mme Ley had traveled to Paris earlier in July to campaign with the countries on the committee. Canberra had gone so far as to take ambassadors to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and 12 of the committee’s 21 member states had offered to postpone the decision until 2023.