UN body Unesco has reported their beliefs that the Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of World Heritage Sites that are “in danger” to further protect it from climate change.
They argue that targets to protect the reef have not been met; a statement that has angered the Australian Government, who voiced plans to challenge the listing during their ongoing dispute with Unesco.
Unesco first voiced concerns over the state of the reef in 2017, and the Government committed a further A$3billion to improve it’s health. The reef is included in the World Heritage rankings for it’s ‘significant and intrinsic importance.’
However, the reef has also experienced considerable coral bleaching in the last 5 years, which Unesco argue demonstrates that water quality has not been improved enough. In 2019, Austrailia’s reef authority downgraded the health of the reef to ‘very poor’ from ‘poor’, and the country has not updated or committed to new climate change policies since 2015.
Coral reefs are important because they provide a diverse ecosystem for life underwater; thousands of species can be found living on one coral reef! They also protect coastal areas by reducing the power of waves hitting the coast, and provide a crucial source of income for millions of people through the fishing and tourism industries.
A combination of multiple global changes in ocean temperature and acidification, with local pressures such as pollution, overfishing and declining water quality, has led to changes that could become irreversible within the next few decades.
Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their vibrant colors and turn white. Coral are bright and colorful because of microscopic algae. But when the ocean environment changes, the coral becomes stressed and expels the algae. As the algae leaves, the coral fades until it looks like it’s been bleached. If the temperature stays high, the coral won’t let the algae back, and the coral will die. Coral reefs rarely recover one their own once bleaching occurs, which puts their ecosystems and all marine life that live there at risk. As more and more coral reefs die, many species could also face extinction.