After years of climate-worsened damage to its vibrant corals, Australia’s vast Great Barrier Reef could this week be added to UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage sites.
Along with six other sites globally that are grappling with issues like ecological damage, overdevelopment, overtourism or security concerns, the reef’s fate is being considered at a meeting in China, with a decision on the listing likely to be announced on Friday.
There are more than 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide recognised for their “outstanding universal value” and natural or cultural importance.
But the list is not permanently fixed and sites can be downgraded or even deleted entirely on the UN body’s recommendation.
– Why could the reef lose its status? –
It has also been battered by several cyclones, as climate change drives more extreme weather, and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish which eat the coral.
Australian government scientists say the corals have made a comeback over the past year, but acknowledge that will not improve the ecosystem’s “very poor” long-term outlook.
There are fears that an “in danger” listing could dent the massive global appeal of the reef — the glittering jewel in Australia’s tourism crown.
Australia launched a last-minute lobbying effort to avoid the downgrade, sending the country’s environment minister to Paris to meet World Heritage Committee members and taking key ambassadors on a reef snorkelling trip.
– What is the likely outcome? –
The country created a “Reef 2050” plan and has pouredbillionsof dollars into reef protection, including water quality improvements, in part to address the concerns.
The decision now rests in the hands of the World Heritage Committee, but 12 other countries have proposed delaying the decision until 2023, after reported lobbying from Australian officials.