Magnetic Island North Queensland
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June 3rd 2012
Threat of "World Heritage in Danger" listing for Reef

Coral being smothered by sedimentation UNESCO has put the Queensland and Australian governments on notice over coastal development affecting the Outstanding Universal Values of the Great Barrier Reef. And, if substantial progress is not made by next year, The Great Barrier Reef may be be listed as, “World Heritage in Danger.”

“The report was direct and strong and validated the long-held concerns of the community,” said North Queensland Conservation Council Coordinator, Wendy Tubman.

“It made no bones about the potential impact on the area from what it described as ‘the unprecedented scale of coastal development currently being proposed," she said, confirming what environmentalists have been saying for some time.

The report focusses particularly on the water quality, “which is the principal driver of the decline in the inshore areas,” and recommends that Australia, "should not permit any new port development outside of the existing and long established major port areas,” and, "that development within major port areas is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on Outstanding Universal Value."

Much of the concerns are focussed on ports and infrastructure at Gladstone harbour and Curtis Island where they highlighted views from stakeholders over, “reduced water quality from dredging, inadequate independent, scientific oversight in monitoring water quality, suggested lack of government response when water quality targets are exceeded, impact on traditional use, and lack of satisfaction regarding procedures for public consultation and transparency.”

Magnetic Island-based Principal Research Scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Dr Katharina Fabricius, told Magnetic Times, "Dredging and agricultural run-off can both affect the water quality around inshore reefs. Both increase turbidity, making the water dark, and release nutrients which can boost the growth of seaweed. Sediments and seaweed can smother corals and make it much harder for young corals to survive. Corals can die within 36 hours when they are exposed to sediments that are enriched with nutrients. Both dredging and runoff can also cause the loss of seagrass," she said.

Reef corals choked and smothered by nutrient-triggered weed

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society Director, Darren Kindleysides, said, “Vessel traffic through Australia’s World Heritage reef is projected to increase five-fold by 2020, turning the Great Barrier Reef into a shipping superhighway. The risk shipping poses was thrown into the spotlight just weeks ago when the 26,000 tonne cargo vessel the MV Integrity lost power and drifted for 40 hours in the Coral Sea outside the Great Barrier Reef coming perilously close to crashing into Shark Reef". 

Online activist group, GetUp claimed that an opinion poll “found 79 per cent of Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef's recognised heritage area -- and that was before UNESCO's scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.”

GetUp is planning a new ad campaign to run in the key financial markets of Asia and India -- warning potential investors not to touch these projects. (Click here)

“This is a massive wake-up call for the Australian government; it shows that international experts are in accord with the community in saying that the Great Barrier Reef just cannot take any more pressure,” Ms Tubman said.

Story: George Hirst
Photos: Courtesy of Dr Katharina Fabricius

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Threat of
June 4th 2012
How clear can UNESCO make it?! I for one am appalled to learn that corals can die within 36 hours when overcome by nutrient rich sediment and that vessel traffic through The Great Barrier Reef waters will increase 5-fold within 8 years. How can any caring decision-makers sit back and ignore the experts’ advice on protecting this iconic World Heritage area for not only the present generation but for future generations and for the environment's own sake.
June 4th 2012
Thanks for the story, George. Having 'our' Barrier Reef at risk of being classified as 'In Danger' by the objective international experts is a situation that needs to be taken extremely seriously. And to have our Federal member of parliament provide inane comment on the issue is alarming to say the least.(When asked yesterday by the Townsville Bulletin for his reaction to the environmental arm of the UN's report on the World Heritage listing of the Great Barrier Reef, Herbert MP Ewen Jones remarked: "I don't go to New York and tell Americans what to do ... Who the bloody hell are they?").

June 4th 2012
Ewen shafted one of his own Liberal people and backed his golfing mate in the council election instead. Looks like he's happy to do the same for the reef tourist industry too. Wonder which mining boss he plays golf with? Your drive Clive. lol
June 4th 2012
It's about time someone recognised the damage being done to the reef. I guess the story has already played out on Magnetic Island. Our tourist information talks about crystal clear water. I don't think we have seen "crystal clear" water here for years and I would hazard a guess that the blame could be laid fairly and squarely on the deep water channel that is continually dredged to allow access to Townsville for the big cargo boats that use the port.
June 4th 2012
The calm and measured approach of the UNESCO stands in stark contrast to the ignorant reaction of conservative politicians - ignorant because they assert they don't even need to read the document. This is part of the statement:
"At its 35th session, the Committee noted with serious concern that a single Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant on Curtis Island had been consented. The mission noted that the plant had been assessed as impacting on attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. It transpires this is one of three such plants on Curtis Island, with a major associated dredging programme underway, and a fourth application still to be determined. The information provided by the Australian authorities and the findings of the mission, shows a rapid and recent increase in proposals for coastal development with potential impacts on the OUV of the property. The information illustrates that, to date, about 70% (41 out of 61) of all such proposals determined over the past decade (1999-2011) have been approved, presumably with a range of attached conditions. More than 60% of all such development proposals (67 of 108 proposals in total) were made in the last 5 years, with a substantial and consistent increase since 2008 notably in relation to projects associated with the export of coal and Liquefied Natural Gas. Proposals for development located both within and outside the property currently under consideration (circa 45 in total, of which circa 35 applications are seeking determination before the end of 2013) include LNG and other processing facilities and associated infrastructure, port facilities and dredging, tourism developments, aquaculture and agricultural developments, mining and extractive industries, transport infrastructure (excluding port facilities), pipelines, water treatment facilities and water supply infrastructure, and residential developments. 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.
The mission further noted that, whilst many aspects of the management of the property set standards, there is a range of unaddressed concerns regarding the protection and management of the port and LNG facilities in Gladstone Harbour and on Curtis Island and the protection of its surrounding environment. Concerns raised by stakeholders include reduced water quality from dredging, inadequate independent, scientific oversight in monitoring water quality, suggested lack of government response when water quality targets are exceeded, impact on traditional use, and lack of satisfaction regarding procedures for public consultation and transparency. It does not appear that offsets that were part of the conditions for consenting developments in Gladstone Harbour and on Curtis Island are appropriate and sufficient mitigation of the impact the facilities have on the property. The mission considers that these concerns should be addressed prior to any port development and ensure that port facilities and operations throughout the property meet the highest international standards of best practice, commensurate with the status of an iconic World Heritage property.
Until the results of the Strategic Assessment noted below are achieved, and a related plan for sustainable development has been put in place, a highly precautionary approach is required in relation to all developments that might impact the OUV of the property, together with effective and regular reporting to the World Heritage Committee. Without such a precautionary approach the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment may be compromised, and there are a number of developments that, were they to proceed, would provide the basis to consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger."
With some considerable luck (unlikely to be good management) our new state government may realise that it needs to confront the push for unlimited, unconstrained coastal development to support the mining and gas industries. Just once I'd like to hear Premier Campbell Newman referred to as 'No-Can-Do.
Peter Jones
June 5th 2012
Thanks for the great coverage of this issue MagTimes.In a calm and measured world, where cool, clear and rational analysis guided policy-making, this report would serve as a very significant wake up call, giving all citizens, as well as politicians and developers, cause to pause and consider the path we are on. Unfortunately the reactions from our political representatives has been a lot less than encouraging.

It would be nice to think that the 'lucky' outcome Charlie suggests may come to pass, but I suspect that without strong pressure from the public, our pollies are likely to think they can simply ignore the report, dis UNESCO as a bunch of interfering outsiders and get on with business as usual. Now is the time for those phone calls, letter, emails etc to your elected representatives!
Steve Lane
June 7th 2012
Oh no...Not - 'In Danger'. Surely not that...Anything but that.

"Would Sir like that with a Critically Endangered on the side, or would that be too much?

"No thanks, thats a bit too rich really isn't it. I think I'll just have the Really, Really Endangered, if it's all the same to you - Critically Endangered gives me gas".

Wonder why UNESCO just didn't say it was at risk of being 'Badly Bruised' or here's a better one: 'Fully Sick'.

Love those Green Superlatives...

Like it or not that reef will be there in a thousand years, irrespective of what mans throws at it. "Move on people...Nothing to see here".
June 8th 2012
Steve Lane may not be aware that years ago GBRMPA initiated and coordinated the development of a 25 year Strategic Plan for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area beginning from 1991. This plan provides for a healthy environment for the Reef which maintains its diversity of species and habitats, and its ecological integrity and resilience, parts of which are in pristine condition.
The Plan also provides for sustainable multiple use ie. non-destructive activities which can continue forever, that is, in such a way that maintains the widest range of opportunities for sustainable use, and does not adversely affect the ecological integrity of the Reef's natural systems.
I think the UNESCO notice signals that although in a geological sense there will always be coral-reef limestone formations on that part of the Australian continental shelf, the way things are going we may risk losing the "healthy environment" (as we Australians accepted the definition of it) and that with the healthy environment goes the "sustainable multiple use". So Steve may be happy that the limestone outcrops are there forever but the next person may lament the passing of the coral reef lifeform which is now, right now, being slowly and steadily degraded. Some parts of it are actually dying. Call it whatever "green superlative" you like but acknowledge that we are being gently informed, by eminent authorities, that the living reef is indeed endangered - mainly now by "what man throws at it". Moving on is turning a blind eye. Dumb really, because in fact there really is something to see on the Great Barrier Reef as almost everyone who has ever actually experienced it will attest.

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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