Is the Great Barrier Reef losing its World Heritage listing?

For years the health of the Great Barrier Reef has been at risk. Many reports of its deterioration have been shared and the world is concerned about the reefs survival. Warming waters, coral bleaching, and crown-of-thorns starfish have all contributed to the reefs decline.

In December 2019 the Queensland Government handed over a report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee detailing the state of the reef and its movement from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’ condition.

But what does this have to do with the reef’s heritage listing? Well, if UNESCO decides to list the reef as ‘in danger’ it may not meet the criteria to remain on the World Heritage list.

Why would the reef lose its listing?

The Great Barrier Reefs world heritage values are taking damage. If the reef continues to deteriorate it may be placed on the World Heritage In Danger list.

UNESCO developed the list to identify sites on the current World Heritage list that are at risk. These risks could relate to natural disasters, pollution, poaching, urbanisation, tourism, and conflict. Sites on the list are considered at high risk of losing the characteristics saw them added to the World Heritage List. The list was developed to bring attention to conditions that threaten the characteristics that saw the site added to the list. It is hoped the list will encourage governments to protect the sites. Additionally, the In Danger list can result in funding from UNESCO and other international support towards sites protection.

If the reef continues to die, and we do not act soon, the reef may fall off the list altogether. If the reef loses the characteristics which gave it heritage listing it will be removed from the list and no longer have protection by UNESCO.

Can you get off the In Danger list?

However, if the reef makes it to the In Danger list all hope is not lost. Were the reef to join the In Danger list,  significant and drastic actions would need to take place to ensure its protection. This includes development of preventative measures for major threats. Were these to be successful the reef could return to the regular list.

A great example of this is the Galapagos Islands. In 2007 they were added to the In Danger list, alarmed by this, the Ecuadorian government devised plans to protect the areas better and improve life on the islands. As a result, the islands made a return to the UNESCO list in 2010. Some of the actions they took included restrictions on tourist numbers and regulation to the types of boats used in its waters.

How can you help?

Well, one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change. By doing your part to lead an eco-friendly life you’re already helping to protect the reef. There are also many foundations and projects you can donate to that are working to help the reef. Additionally, being careful when you visit the reef will help protect it. Think about what sunscreen you use, do not litter and do not touch any of the marine life.

Related article: How the Australian Government is Protecting the Great Barrier Reef?

Language »