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UNESCO Takes Australia To Task On Barrier Reef …

  • June 3rd, 2012
  • Posted by EUEditor

barrier-reef-org.jpgThe Australian government says it will push on with a review of strategy for the Great Barrier Reef, together with the State of Queensland — following a hostile report on the protection of World Heritage values in the area, by UNESCO.


barrier-reef-map.jpgThe United Nations body, which listed the Barrier Reef for protection in 1981, on the weekend announced findings of a recent field investigation.

It called for a halt to industrial development on the coast adjacent to the reef zone, notably the building of ports for the resources trade, before there was a full assessment of the state of health of the reef.

‘‘Considering the high rate of approvals over the past 12 years, this unprecedented scale of development affecting or potentially affecting the property poses serious concerns over its long-term conservation,’’ it said.

The report was far from unanticipated; a surge in development activity, recent and anticipated, had reopened divisions over protection of the Great Barrier Reef, cutting across usual political divisions – left, right, north and south in Australia.


UNESCO had telegraphed its concern in a statement announcing its investigation on 2.3.12.

It said:

“A joint international expert mission to the World Heritage property of Great Barrier Reef by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (WHC), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is taking place from 5 to 14 March 2012.

“The World Heritage Committee, at its 35th session in June 2011 (Paris) examined the state of conservation of Great Barrier Reef (Australia) …

“The Committee noted with extreme concern the approval of Liquefied Natural Gas processing and port facilities on Curtis island within the World Heritage property. The Committee further requested the Australian Government invite a reactive monitoring mission to visit the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site …”

“The objective of this monitoring mission is to assess the overall state of conservation of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Great Barrier Reef; and to assist the Australian Government with the strategic assessment they are undertaking to provide for the long-term sustainable conservation of the World Heritage property.

“The mission will visit not only the pristine and iconic areas of the Great Barrier Reef, but also the adjacent urban, industrial and port areas that are fundamental to Queensland and Australia’s future economic and community development. The World Heritage Centre, IUCN and both the Australian and Queensland governments are working in close collaboration to plan and coordinate the mission…”


The Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said on Saturday the federal Government had invited the investigating mission in response to the concerns raised by the World Heritage Committee.

barrier-reef-gladstone.jpgThe main focus had been the expansion of the port of Gladstone and the neighbouring small island, Curtis Island, being built up as an extension port facility. (See map adjacent, Gladstone region, port to the South).

“The UNESCO mission in March acknowledged that our management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is still considered to be best practice”, he said.

“The State of Conservation report also made some recommendations for the comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef currently being undertaken by the Australian and Queensland governments.

“This will be by far the largest and most comprehensive and complex assessment undertaken in Australia and it is still in the early stages.

“I welcomed the missions’ feedback when they we here in March, and it will be taken into account when finalising the terms of reference.”

He said The World Heritage Committee would review the report at a meeting in St Petersburg, 24.6.12 to  6.7.12,  when a final decision about the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was due to be made.


barrier-reef-coralcoeorg.jpgThe history of the development of Queensland coal, gas and mineral mining, directly adjacent to the sprawling extent of the reef along Australia’s north-east coastline, commenced seriously with the first mining boom of the 1960s.

By 1968 political confrontations had developed over moves by the government of the State of Queensland, to permit oil drilling at sea, on the actual reef or directly in the vicinity of the coral formations.

barrier-reef-ausnet.jpgThe rural-based, conservative Queensland government of the time found itself directly contradicted by federal conservative administrations, under Prime Ministers John Gorton, then Malcolm Fraser, who were able to access treaty powers to eventually get the region listed by UNESCO

They also established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which has set up an expanding zone of protected waters, supports scientific research, regulates tourism and fishing activity, and maintains an environmental watch backed with power to enforce.

Recent developments have seen an extension of territory protected from fishing, to reduce pressure on stocks of marine life.

barrier-shen-neng-1.jpgIn the present decade fresh expansion of mining, mostly to supply growth of heavy industry and manufacturing in China,  (along with the widely reviled phenomenon of shale-oil extraction), have revived tension in Australia. (See picture, Shen Neng 1 on Reef).

A new conservative government in Queensland was elected on 24.3.12, frightening the horses in the immediate aftermath by declaring that “green tape” would be cut away from the expansion of the industrial port of Gladstone, and neighbouring Curtis Island.

Already a high occurrence of disease in fish in the port vicinity had generated heat over claims that excessive dredging and other development work were behind it; (other possibilities still to be fully investigated included impacts of the heavy flooding in  Queensland, early in 2011).

The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, said his government, while following a development policy, was not planning to open several new ports along the coast.


The ports movement is backed by major industry, objecting to highly expensive congestion at port facilities, with lines of bulk carriers tied up in roads.

The sight exacerbates fears that recurrent accidents involving massive ships, running aground on parts of the reef or discharging oil, will soon lead to a major environmental catastrophe.

Other fears for the reef include: evidence of climate change associated with coral bleaching and ecological decay, posing a threat to the entire organism and structure; denuding of fish stocks by Australian fisheries, and international fishers pirating stocks on an industrial scale; Japanese whaling; possible impacts of nutrients and contaminants, in areas exposed to run-off of fertiliser or herbicides from sugar cane farming; natural threats like siltation from flooding on the land, cutting off the vegetable food supply to dugong and other marine species.

Conservation groups have called for a halt to all extension of seaports along the Barrier Reef coasts following the announcement of finding by UNESCO.


Brisbane Times, Brisbane, “UNESCO report scathing of Great Barrier Reef management”, 2.6.12., (3.6.12).

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (home), Townsville., 2.6.12.

Hon Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra, “Minister welcomes UNESCO’s Great Barrier Reef Report” (media release), 2.6.12., (3.6.12)

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Paris, World Heritage Centre, “Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage property (Australia)”, 2.3.12., (3.6.12)

 Pictures,,,, wikipedia