Climate Action

Great Barrier Reef: UNESCO agree to censor its own report

There are more than 1,000 world heritage sites in 163 countries according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate Report. Many of these heritage sites are very famous, important, and profitable tourist destinations. Tourism can bring a lot of economic and social benefits, especially in rural areas and developing countries. However, mass tourism also has many negative effects as it will pose threats to natural and cultural resources. Tourism cause increased pollution through traffic emissions, littering, and increased noise and can also cause damage to these World Heritage sites.

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One of the sites highlighted in a draft of the report by UNESCO was the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable ecological variety on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk. The original report contained a chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, which described climate change as “the biggest long-term threat to the [reef] today, and to its ecosystems services, biodiversity, heritage values and tourism economy.” It also concluded that “without a comprehensive response more in keeping with scale of the threat, the [reef]’s extraordinary biodiversity and natural beauty may lose its world heritage values.” However, the Australian Department of Environment saw this draft of the report and asked that the section be removed for two main reasons. The first reason was that the Australian government argued the title of the report “had the potential to cause considerable confusion” regarding the conservation status of the Great Barrier Reef. The second reason was that featuring the Great Barrier Reef in the UNESCO report would have a substantial impact on Australia’s tourism industry. Through diplomatic pressure, every mention of Australia was removed by UNESCO from their report. No other section about any other country were removed from the report. The removals left Australia as the only inhabited continent on the planet with no mentions.

Australian foreign minister says reefs are not in danger. However, the truth is that the reef is not only in danger but also in serious risk. “Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It is already affecting the Reef and is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the decades to come,” according to The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s 2014 Outlook Report, “Sea temperatures are on the rise and this trend is expected to continue, leading to an increased risk of mass coral bleaching; gradual ocean acidification will increasingly restrict coral growth and survival; and there are likely to be more intense weather events.”

Global reefs have been heavily damaged by overfishing and now they are being hit by coral bleaching due to warming oceans. The Australian government should do more to protect the reefs rather than contest the underlying reality without suffer the financial consequences.