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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned the Australian government on Saturday that it may downgrade the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef as early as next year. UNESCO is assessing 43 federal and local government projects that could cause further destruction to the reef, and has cautioned that the site may be reclassified as a “World Heritage Site in Danger,” unless “urgent and decisive action” is taken to preserve the surrounding environment.

great barrier reef, water issues, water pollution, unesco, united nations, australia waterPhoto via Shutterstock

Among the projects of significant environmental concern to UNESCO are several coal and gas infrastructure projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars, including a proposed terminal that would export 35 million metric tons of coal a year from Balaclava Island. Such projects amount to “rampant coastal development,” which along with a booming tourism industry and continued concerns over water health pose significant threats to the long-term health of the iconic reef.

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sought to defend the government’s environmental record in the wake of UNESCO’s warnings, citing a $200 million (AUS) Reef Rescue project that works to improve water quality around the Great Barrier Reef by working with primary producers (such as farmers) to reduce runoff and subsequent water pollution.

But UNESCO is warning that that alone is not enough, and that a “firm and demonstrable commitment on these priority issues” must be seen in order for the Great Barrier Reef to retain its status. Greens party Senator Larissa Waters explained “This is the world heritage body warning us that we need to (do) better or our reef, our most precious tourism icon, will be put on the world heritage endangered list, along with other countries like Yemen, the Congo and Afghanistan.”

+ UNESCO Report [PDF]

Via Physorg, Bloomberg