Great Barrier Reef gets one last chance

THE World Heritage Committee has given Australia a one-year reprieve to improve its management of the Great Barrier Reef, but the stern international warning of listing the reef as a world heritage site in danger remains.

Meeting in Doha this week, the key UNESCO committee overnight decided to allow the Australian Government until June 2015 to make more progress on the committee's list of recommendations, first raised in 2011.

Environmental groups have claimed the decision shows not enough has been done to protect the reef from a host of challenges, while industry has claimed the decision rejects doubts about the environment management of the reef.

While state and federal ministers said it was a move that showed the committee trusted the governments to take more action, their decision shows the international body is sceptical.

The committee welcomed progress to date, including the belated individual strategic assessments of the property.

But  it again reiterated its concerns about port developments, LNG plants and other coastal development along the Queensland coast, particularly after the approval of a fourth LNG plant on Curtis Island near Gladstone and the Abbot Point dredging near Mackay.

From an international perspective, the decision was further complicated by Queensland representing itself to the committee, despite the body not recognising state or provincial governments, with responsibility actually resting solely with the federal government.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the decision to hold off on listing the reef showed the committee recognised the work done, despite the committee specifically mentioning his approval of the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredged spoil in the marine park near Abbot Point.

He said the reef report card released last week showed there had been much progress, despite warnings sent to the committee by top water quality scientist Professor Jon Brodie that such efforts could be to no avail if all proposed dredging projects near the reef are approved.

The Australian Government now has until February next year to report back to the World Heritage Committee.