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October 15, 2019
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Australia urges UNESCO to protect endangered Great Barrier Reef

CANBERRA, Australia: The federal government is pushing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s world heritage committee to resolve the Great Barrier Reef crisis triggered by climate change.

Two government reports, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s outlook report and a joint federal and Queensland government report on water quality, are due imminently.

Australian representatives had previously expressed concern over using climate change as a basis for an in danger listing of world heritage properties during a committee meeting in July.

Heritage, Reef and Marine Division First Assistant Secretary Stephen Oxley told the committee, “We need a contemporary, evidence-based policy that sets the foundation for tractable climate action in the world heritage system.”

At the July meeting, Oxley said Australia was disappointed by the slow progress, “we do need to find a way to recognize the reality that whole categories of world heritage properties globally are threatened by climate change – coral reefs, glaciers and mountain forests to name three examples.”

Next year, UNESCO’s world heritage committee will assess the Great Barrier Reef for the first time since mass coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

The committee’s new climate policy is due this year, which will replace outdated 2007 guidelines.

Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Coral Reefs, the first Global Scientific Assessment by UNESCO in 2017, predicts that ‘25 of the 29 World Heritage reefs’ will experience twice-per-decade severe bleaching by 2040.

It states, “This frequency will rapidly kill most corals present and prevent successful reproduction necessary for recovery of corals. All properties will experience annual severe bleaching, and thus will cease to host functioning coral reef ecosystems, by the end of the century unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.”

Environmental groups say next year’s UNESCO review of the reef could serve as a test case for how the world heritage system will handle properties that are now visibly affected by climate change.

Australian Marine Conservation Society Campaign Director Imogen Zethoven said coral reefs were at the forefront of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. The federal government has acknowledged that a number of times but it’s doing nothing to mitigate the root cause of the problem,” she complained.

Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research Expert Dr. Jon Brodie expressed grave concern over the state of affairs, “Progress on reef water quality is plateauing. What we’re doing is not enough!”

Recently, a giant raft of pumice produced by an underwater volcano near Tonga was spotted in the Pacific.

It is expected to make its way towards Australia and could help with the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef from its bleaching episode by restocking millions of tiny marine organisms, including coral.

The 150 square kilometres raft was first reported by Michael Hoult and Larissa Brill while sailing to Fiji on August 16.