| SYDNEY, June 18
SYDNEY, June 18 The United Nations on Wednesday
said Australia was making progress to preserve the Great Barrier
Reef, a key tourist attraction that environmentalists say faces
threats from industrial and agricultural development.
The World Heritage Committee of U.N. agency UNESCO, meeting
in Doha this week, deferred until 2015 a decision on whether to
place the 300,000-sq-km reef on its list of sites in danger.
"We welcome Australia's progress in managing the reef,"
panel director Kishore Rao said in a statement. "UNESCO is
confident the overall direction towards next year's decision is
a positive one."
Some estimates say contamination from agricultural and
mining industries operating near the coastline has destroyed
half of the reef's coral cover, but this figure is disputed.
"The committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take
stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef," said Richard
Leck, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund.
The reef has the world's largest collection of coral reefs,
with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of
mollusc, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong
and large green turtle, according to the World Heritage list.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation is concerned over proposed coastal developments,
including the building of ports and natural gas facilities.
It has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the
state of conservation of the reef, which sprawls over an area
half the size of Texas, by next February 1.
Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, has said
it will not finance a controversial coal port expansion near the
reef, in response to calls from green groups and tourism
An Australian government report released last week showed a
drop in sediment run-off, widely associated with one of the
reef's biggest threats - the displacement of coral-eating
The report also cited better land management that led to a
28 percent cut in pesticide run-off on to the reef.
Sugarcane is grown on large tracts of land near the reef,
while coal freighters regularly ply nearby waters.
Australia is investing about A$180 million ($169.18 million)
every year to protect and rehabilitate the reef, says
Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
"The Great Barrier Reef is facing challenges but we are
absolutely committed to protecting and improving the health of
this iconic natural wonder so it can be enjoyed by future
generations," Hunt said in a statement.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)