Pniesen

UN holds breath on the Great Barrier Reef

BILLIONS of tourism dollars are at stake but news the Great Barrier Reef will not be officially listed as "in danger" by UNESCO has brought a sense of relief to business and tourism operators.

The UNESCO draft recommendation, in a report by the World Heritage Committee, is likely to be formally approved later this month when it meets in Germany.

Environmental groups have been measured as they gauge what implications this may have on the directions that Australian governments will take to safeguard the reef long term.

UNESCO has warned that significant ongoing work needs to be done to protect the reef and the outlook remains poor.

The draft recommendations gave tacit approval of efforts now being done by governments and welcomed commitments to reduce pollution run-off by 80 per cent by 2025 and to restrict new port development.

Gladstone Area Promotion Development Ltd's chief executive Glenn Churchill is very pleased with the recommendation, saying its members would be able to work with this.

GAPDL chief executive Glenn Churchill
GAPDL chief executive Glenn Churchill

"From our perspective we had expected the worst, a bad decision, and now we have got something acceptable," Mr Churchill said.

"It is clear the world will be watching us and how we continue managing our reef but we don't want to shut the people out.

"What is pleasing is that commonsense has prevailed.

"It is a draft decision but now we need to continue to demonstrate that we can manage and look after our reef."

Mr Churchill said if the draft recommendation had gone the other way, it would have been "catastrophic and distasteful" for the region's tourism.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said it was great news for the reef and Queensland that the world had recognised the progress being made in protecting the reef.

He cited government policies to end forever the practice of dumping capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage area; the long-term sustainability plan developed by both governments and restrictions on port development.

For Capricorn Conservation Council co-ordinator Michael McCabe many issues and threats remain, the most serious of which is the impact of global warming on the reef.

He said it had been very beneficial that the issue had come to world attention through UNESCO.

It had resulted in better focus on environmental strategy assessments, improving water quality management practices, and ending dredging spoil being dumped in reef waters.

Mr McCabe said indications were that Australia would remain "under notice" because it was clear there was a continuing decline of the reef in its populated southern zone.