SYDNEY Jan 24 Australia has to take swift
action to protect the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World
Heritage site, amid significant threats from industrial projects
as a February deadline looms, environmental groups say.
Heralded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world,
the reef is home to 400 types of coral, 240 species of birds and
1,500 species of fish. It is worth A$6 billion annually to the
local economy in tourism.
UNESCO warned Australia last June over development on the
reef, and the United Nations has said that the area could be
listed as "in danger" if there is no evidence of progress by Feb
"Australia's most important environmental asset is under
serious threat from existing and proposed industrialisation
along the Queensland coast," said Felicity Wishart, campaign
director for the coalition composed of WWF Australia and the
Australian Marine Conservation Society, on Wednesday.
Coal is one of Australia's top export earners and the state
of Queensland is the country's largest coal producer. The reef
faces growing threat from shipping driven by these project
"The reef has an international reputation, it is loved
globally," Wishart told reporters. "That's a really alarming
international black mark that we could be tracking towards if we
don't lift our game."
UNESCO, which gave the reef World Heritage status in 1991,
has made a number of proposals to the national and Queensland
state government on managing the reef, such as halting further
port construction and limiting ship numbers.
A spokesman for the Department of Sustainability,
Environment, Water, Population and Communities in Canberra said
the government was assessing key issues facing the reef.
"The Australian government is committed to ensuring the best
possible protection and management for the reef," the spokesman
said in an email, adding that the government had acknowledged
"Any major development that could impact on the Great
Barrier Reef World Heritage Area would only be approved with the
most robust conditions that ensure high environmental standards
The environmental campaign hopes to place the reef on the
political agenda this year when Australians are due for a
(Reporting By Thuy Ong, editing by Elaine Lies)