Will the Great Barrier Reef be included in the list of World Heritage sites classified as “endangered”? Unesco recommended, in a preliminary report published Monday, June 21, to degrade its status due to the deterioration of the site. An opinion opposed by the Australian government and which it will contest during the 44e committee meeting, scheduled for July, in China, during which the decision is to be made. For the Minister of the Environment Sussan Ley, the report was drawn up without “Have the latest data” and “Without on-site examination of the Barrier”, the “Best managed reef in the world”, according to her.
“The decision was not transparent in my opinion”, also denounces the minister. Officials accused China of putting pressure on the UN body to strike a blow at Australia, with which it is at loggerheads. “All of a sudden, and perhaps not by chance, under a Chinese presidency, she [l’Unesco] is again considering downgrading the Great Barrier Reef ”, said Liberal Senator James Paterson.
Words contested by researchers who, for years, have been warning about the effects of global warming on the largest living structure on Earth. “To say that she is not in danger is to ignore the facts”, says Lesley Hughes, biologist and member of the environmental organization Climate Council. The rise in the temperature of the surface water causes the expulsion of small algae which give the coral its brilliant colors and provide it with nutrients. Over the past two decades, the reef has undergone five bleaching episodes, the most recent in 2020. Half of the corals have disappeared and the acceleration of the phenomenon is preventing their regeneration.
Damage caused by global warming
The Great Barrier is a major tourist attraction for the island-continent, and 64,000 jobs depend on it. In order to prevent its image from being tarnished by a change of status, the authorities drew up a plan in 2015, funded to the tune of 3 billion Australian dollars (1.9 billion euros). “We have taken measures to improve the quality of the water in the area, to fight against the purple acanthaster [une étoile de mer invasive] and to develop innovative cutting-edge technologies to restore coral ”, says Josh Thomas, president of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In a report published in 2019, this government agency had nevertheless qualified the prospects of the site of “Very bad”. It is in particular on this document that the experts of the United Nations are supported. “There is still work to be done but we are moving in the right direction and we want to show it to Unesco”, pleads Josh Thomas.
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