Following last year’s criticisms from the UN body UNESCO, the federal government has vowed to end any coal port or shipping developments that could cause “unacceptable” harm to the Great Barrier Reef.
A rapid increase in coastal and port developments located near the reef caused “significant concern, according to the UNESCO. If conditions did not change, the reef’s conservation status may have to be revised to a world heritage area “in danger.”
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act requires Queensland’s government to meet specific criteria before further port developments are allowed in sensitive areas like Gladstone. This supports UNESCO’s request for the government to not allow new port developments outside of existing industrial sites.
The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said he is confident the strict application of the Act, changes in future coal production and shipping estimates will keep the reef’s world heritage status.
“Yes, it will,” Burke said. “UNESCO wanted the government to establish a benchmark that they wanted us to meet, and it has been met. The development approvals that have happened [since the UNESCO report] have been consistent with that.”
Federal environment regulations to meet the world heritage committee requirements will be applied whenever possible, Burke added.
The coal and gas boom in Queensland drove the increase in shipping, but the Australia Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics have reduced these initial estimates, according to a report released Friday.
Despite these promises and attempts to protect the reef, doubts still exist from environment groups like the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF.
“The sheer size and speed of port and associated development along the reef coast is unprecedented,'' said Felicity Wishart, the conservation society's campaign director. “Australians love the reef. It's the centrepiece of Queensland's $6 billion dollar reef tourism industry. But this is a wake-up call.”