Great Barrier Reef's heritage status 'in danger'

Last updated 21:50 18/06/2013

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The Great Barrier Reef will be listed as an ''in danger'' World Heritage site next year if new developments along Australia's Queensland coast aren't restricted.

The World Heritage Committee has told Australia it must present a plan on how to protect the reef from increasing coal and gas extraction and shipping.

If improvements aren't made the reef could be listed as ''in danger'' when the committee meets in June next year.

Although Australia has made some progress, ''some issues still need to be addressed more forcefully'', Marc Patry, program specialist at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, said at its meeting in Cambodia on Tuesday.

WWF Great Barrier Reef spokesman Richard Leck, who attended the committee meeting, says the state and federal governments have been put on notice.

''They have 12 months to take these recommendations seriously or risk the Great Barrier Reef being listed on the World Heritage list of shame,'' he said.

The committee also had some good news, noting Australia's commitment to improving water quality.

Both Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and Queensland Environment Andrew Powell welcomed the decision.

''I am pleased that the final report takes into account more recent commitments by the government to safeguard the reef,'' Mr  Burke said.

This includes a further $200 million for the next stage of the Reef Rescue program and continued scientific research to protect  the reef, he said.

Mr Powell said the state government had worked hard over the past year to address concerns raised by the UN's environmental arm.

This includes scaling back plans for a multi-cargo port at Abbott Point near Bowen, improving water quality and reducing  nutrient run off from farms.However, environmental groups say more needs to be done.

''The committee is essentially saying: 'things aren't good enough, you have to do better','' Felicity Wishart, from the  Australian Marine Conservation Society, said.

''We're still seeing the Queensland government fast tracking developments and we're still seeing the Australian government  failing to stop that.''

Greenpeace says the proposed dredging of three million cubic metres of sand to expand Abbott Point must be stopped to protect the reef.

''This is exactly the kind of destructive development that has the world worried about the future of the Great Barrier Reef,''  spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said.

A study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science last year found that between 1985 and 2012 the reef had lost half of its  coral cover.

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The main culprits were tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish and coral bleaching.

An in-danger listing for the reef would admit Australia to an undesirable club that includes the likes of the Democratic Republic  of Congo, which has all five of its World Heritage sites on the danger list.

- AAP

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