Australia claims substantial progress on reef protection
Melbourne: Australia said that it had made substantial progress on the UN request for better protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the world heritage site should not be listed among "in danger".
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there was genuine improvement in key reef indicators in regards to dugongs, turtles, seagrass and coral.
"Early indications are that these are important and well received developments internationally," he said.
"It is a permanent task for every Australian government to protect and maintain the reef; nobody can ever rest on that. But there should be no way the reef can and should be considered `in danger`."
The World Heritage Committee had threatened to put the reef on a list of world heritage sites considered "in danger" after Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved dumping of dredging spoil inside the marine park.
In a progress report to the UN World Heritage Committee, the federal and Queensland governments have said the natural values the reef was protected for are still largely intact, although in parts - such as inshore areas south of Cooktown - they are declining.
Australian Coral Reef Society president Peter Mumby referred to concerns raised in past that the reef was in the worst shape since monitoring began and said the progress report played?down industrial development threats.
He said development already on the table would add 14 million tonnes a year of damaging sediment to reef waters.
"We have real concerns over development that have not been addressed," he said.
University of Queensland coral reef ecologist Selina Ward said the Abbot Point decision was dangerous because the best modelling showed dumped sediment would drift to outer areas, hurting coral and seagrass.
The progress report said extreme weather events and climate change were the biggest threats to the reef. It also pointed to nutrient and sediment run-off from land clearing and agriculture, and associated crown-of-thorns outbreaks.
It said pollution from other sources, including port development and dredging, "is minor but may be highly significant locally and over short time periods."
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