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Great Barrier Reef


Recently, a joint report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre (WHC) expressed concern about the status of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia, recommending that it “be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”


Environment and Ecology (Conservation of Environment and Ecology, Environmental Pollution and Degradation)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Great Barrier Reef
  2. About Coral Reefs
  3. What does the new report say?

Great Barrier Reef

  • The Great Barrier Reef, located in the Coral Sea (North-East Coast), off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is the world’s most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
  • This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps which are tiny, soft-bodied organisms and their base which is a hard, protective limestone skeleton called a calicle, forms the structure of coral reefs.
  • It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

About Coral Reefs

  • Indonesia has the largest coral reef area in the world and the Great Barrier Reef of the Queensland coast of Australia is the largest aggregation of coral reefs.
  • India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Chagos have the maximum coral reefs in South Asia.
  • Coral Reefs protect humanity from natural calamities acting as a barrier, provide revenue and employment through tourism and recreation and also provide habitats for fishes, starfish and sea anemones.
  • Coral blocks are used for buildings and road construction, the lime supplied by corals is used in cement industries and coral reefs may also be used in jewellery.
  • India has four coral reef areas:
    • Gulf of Mannar,
    • Andaman and Nicobar Islands,
    • Lakshadweep islands
    • Gulf of Kutch.
Risks and threats to coral reefs
  • Due to anthropogenic activities such as coastal development, destructive fishing methods and pollution from domestic and industrial sewage.
  • Due to increased sedimentation, over-exploitation and recurring cyclones.
  • Coral diseases such as black band and white band due to infectious microorganisms introduced by the human population that live on the coastal regions.

What does the IUCN-WHC report say?

  • The report paints a rather bleak picture of the GBR’s current state.
  • Despite Australia’s sustained and scientific efforts to manage the property, currently, the GBR is adversely and significantly impacted by climate change factors, affecting its resilience to sustain and regenerate itself.
  • Frequent bleaching events have made many reefs sterile. Degraded water quality poses a particular threat.
  • The report says that currently, the management of the property lacks clear climate change goals.
  • Further, the implementation of existing plans to conserve the GBR has been falling short, specifically in relation to the management of water quality and fishing activities.
  • Inshore land-based activities, often outside the protected area, are particularly responsible for the degraded water quality in GBR.
  • Pollutants from agricultural and construction activities have been damaging and other proposed developments around the Queensland coast are matters of concern.
Report has multiple suggestions:
  • The foremost is adding the GBR to the List of World Heritage in Danger.
  • Among other things, recommendations also include monitoring and evolving farming practices, greater commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, addressing land erosion on the coast, and adopting sustainable fishing practices.

What does putting GBR on the List of World Heritage in Danger entail?

  • According to UNESCO, “the List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.”
  • Under the 1972 World Heritage Convention, inscribing a site on the List allows the WHC to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property, while simultaneously gathering international support and attention to the site.
  • While some countries do welcome the extra support that accompanies inscription into this list, many have often protested and made attempts to avoid this from happening, seeing it as a great embarrassment for the country.
  • Furthermore, while it is difficult for UNESCO to enforce any of its recommendations, being put on the list does invite greater scrutiny for the site.
  • This is especially true when talking about ecological heritage sites– often, the interests of conservation and economic development are opposed.
  • Inclusion in such a list can have a tangible impact on all kinds of developmental projects, which may be politically significant for governments.

-Source: Indian Express

May 2024