We must fight harder for our Great Barrier Reef as global icon reaches 40 years of World Heritage

Forty years on from the landmark listing of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) is calling for renewed action on climate, water pollution and poor fishing practices – the key threats to its future.

At the 1981 World Heritage meeting, which took place in Sydney between 26 and 30 October, our global icon was inscribed as a World Heritage area for its unmatched biological diversity, evolutionary importance, superlative natural beauty and as a habitat for populations of endangered animals.

While our Reef is widely regarded as a well managed marine ecosystem still boasting all those attributes, we know it is suffering – the three mass coral bleachings in recent years, driven by global heating, is evidence of this. Its breathtaking qualities and very existence is under threat from climate change and other more localised problems.

On the eve of the crucial COP26 conference in Glasgow, and following the Morrison government’s announcement that it will not slash emissions sharply enough in the next decade to ensure the future of the Reef, AMCS calls for:

  • Climate policy commitments from all political parties that are compatible with no more than 1.5 degrees of warming – a crucial threshold for the Reef;
  • Improvements to fisheries management in Queensland that will result in fewer cases of iconic Reef wildlife like dugongs, turtles, dolphins and sawfish being killed indiscriminately in gillnet and trawl fisheries; and
  • Increased investment and innovation to help reduce water pollution from farming and grazing lands and to restore key coastal habitats to meet the essential, science-based water pollution targets.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “AMCS was instrumental in the first campaign to protect the Reef in the 1960s. Fighting for our Reef is in our DNA and we’re proud to have fought for its future ever since. We must redouble our efforts as our Reef faces an uncertain future.

“Our Reef is irreplaceable, not just as a natural world wonder, but because it gives Queensland and Australia so much – tens of thousands of jobs, the tourism and fishing industries, and the bucket list experiences that Australians and visitors remember for the rest of their lives.

“Our children and grandchildren deserve to know this miraculous place like we do and so now we need the ‘corrective measures’ – a World Heritage term for management action – that will ensure its future for another 40 years.”

Following a science-based recommendation from UNESCO to add our Reef to the World Heritage in Danger list earlier this year because of climate and water pollution impacts, there has been a renewed focus in Australia on its health.

Dr Schindler said the pressure generated in the recent World Heritage process must ensure the Reef gets what it needs.

“The World Heritage Committee delayed its decision to place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage in danger list until July 2022. This means Australia has just months to show real action for our Reef.

“In 1981, the World Heritage listing for our Reef was a moment of national pride, hope and potential. On this 40th anniversary, with our Reef under more pressure than ever before, our government must remember that and do what it takes to protect it.”

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