SYDNEY – UNESCO on Thursday condemned a decision to allow the dumping of dredge waste in Great Barrier Reef waters and recommended the Australian marine park be considered for inclusion on the World Heritage in Danger list.
The decision in January to allow 3 million cu. meters of dredge waste to be disposed of in park waters followed a decision by the government to give the green light to a major coal port expansion for India’s Adani Group on the reef coast in December.
Conservationists warn it could hasten the demise of the reef, which is already considered to be in “poor” health, with dredging smothering corals and sea grasses and exposing them to poisons and elevated levels of nutrients.
In its first comments on the issue, UNESCO “noted with concern” and “regrets” the move, which it said “was approved despite an indication that less-impacting disposal alternatives may exist.”
It asked the government to provide a new report to the World Heritage Committee proving that dumping was the least damaging option and would not hurt the reef’s value.
More generally, UNESCO expressed concern “regarding serious decline in the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, including in coral recruitment and reef-building across extensive parts of the property.”
The body said “a business-as-usual approach to managing the property is not an option.”
Given the reef’s long-term deterioration, it recommended the World Heritage Committee consider putting it on its in danger list in 2015 “in the absence of substantial progress on key issues.”
The government in February insisted it had made “substantial” progress on UNESCO benchmarks for protection of the reef in a report aimed at staving off a world heritage downgrade.
According to the report, Australia was taking steps to bolster the reef’s resilience to the major threats of extreme weather events and climate change, which it said “cannot be managed directly.”
WWF Australia spokesman Richard Leck said the government needed to act quickly to prevent the embarrassment of the reef being listed as in danger.