Australia’s Great Barrier Reef In Danger
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in danger, the United Nations said on Saturday. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization warned that extensive industrial development is harming the environment and threatening the reef's listing as a world heritage site.
"The outstanding universal value of the property is threatened and decisive action is required to secure its long-term conservation," the committee said in a statement. "The rapid increase of coastal developments, including ports infrastructure is of significant concern."
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Australia is experiencing an investment boom from Asia, with over $400 billion worth of projects on the horizon. Investments in coal and natural gas exploration coupled with new port development can damage the reef, which is world's largest living structure.
Although many of the projects have not begun, UNESCO said it is taking a "precautionary" approach, saying the sheer number of approved projects is cause for alarm.
"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," UNESCO said, according to Reuters.
UNESCO worries that the development is going to harm the water quality and the coral that make up the reef. Many of the projects involve dredging the seabed, which can wreak havoc on the ecosystem, UNSECO said.
While Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke acknowledged that the projects could potentially cause harm, he said he is confident in the future of the reef.
"The UNESCO mission in March acknowledged that our management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is still considered to be best practice," Burke said, according to Reuters.
World heritage sites are places UNESCO deems to have special cultural or physical significance. UNESCO "seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. " The organization warned that the reef could be removed as a heritage site if the projects go forward as planned.
Campbell Newman, Premier of Queensland, where the reef is located, said the industrial projects will not stop.
"We are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down,'' he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that."
Paul Oosting, environmental campaign director for GetUp!, an environmental advocacy group, said increasing ship traffic through the reef is dangerous.
"'The plans the Queensland government are considering right now would see thousands more ships sailing right past the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Area," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "There will be a massive increase in traffic near the reef, which will lead to a massive increase in the risk of oil spills."
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