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    Great Barrier Reef Stays Off UNESCO Endangered List – For Now

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    A draft decision to keep the world's biggest coral reef off the UNESCO list of endangered natural sites is a reprieve for Australia, which is tasked with its protection.

    The UN conservation agency UNESCO has published a report on its decision on Friday not to put the Great Barrier Reef on its World Heritage endangered list, despite the threat to the reef presented by human activity including impacts from coastal development, pollution and climate change.

    "UNESCO has placed Australia on probation," said WWF Australia in a statement on the recommendation. 

    "The Australian and Queensland Governments must now deliver on their promises to better protect the Reef," continued the WWF, warning that the Australian government must now uphold commitments to conserve the reef, as outlined in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan developed by the Australian government last year.

    The plan is Australia's response to UNESCO's recommendation to develop a long-term plan for sustainable development of the reef. The Reef 2050 plan, which was submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in March 2015, aims to protect the reef by improving water quality, maintaining biodiversity and ensuring that port development and shipping have minimal impact on the Reef. 

    Both the plan and Friday's recommendation are due to be considered at the next session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which will meet in Bonn on June 28.

    In Friday's decision, the Committee called on Australia to effectively implement the commitments set out in the 35-year conservation plan, "including where necessary through their inclusion in legislation, in order to halt the current documented declines in the property, create the conditions for sustained recovery and to enhance the property’s [the Reef's] resilience." 

    The decision also noted "with concern" last year's Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, published every five years, which concluded that the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is "poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate in the future."

    "Climate change, poor water quality from land-based runoff, impacts from coastal development and some remaining impacts of fishing are the major threats to the property’s future health," said the report.

    The decision not to place the Reef on the endangered list was welcomed by the Australian federal government and the State of Queensland;  endangered status would have a disastrous effect on the area's tourism industry.

    "This is an overwhelming endorsement," said Greg Hunt, Australia's Federal Environment Minister. "The world has recognized that Australia has made huge steps in the last 12 months. More to be done, but this is a good result for the reef, it's a good result for Australia." 

    The Great Barrier Reef, which is located off the coast of Queensland, was inscribed in the World Heritage list in 1981. A 2012 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science found that the reef had lost half its coral cover since 1985, with two-thirds of the degradation taking place since 1998.

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