The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is obvious why - it is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for more than 2,300 kilometres along the coast of Queensland. It attracts countless tourists to the region and is hugely popular for diving, snorkelling, tours and all kinds of holiday activities.
It is, of course, in the best interest of everybody to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef remains healthy for the generations to come. With so many cruises from Brisbane
now offering Queensland as a destination or a stop on the journey, the state of the reef is of special interest to cruisers.
Heritage status under threat
In 2014 the World Heritage Committee, whose task it is to discuss and decide on additions and changes to the World Heritage List, warned the Australian State Party that the reef was at risk of being put on the list of World Heritage "properties in danger" at the 2015 committee session
A report on the state of conservation of the reef was requested to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre by the 1st of February 2015 outlining actions taken - and planned - to reduce harmful human effects on the reef. The committee would then decide at this year's session whether the change of status was necessary.
Threats facing the reef included and still include climate change, land-based run off affecting water quality, impact from coastal developments (like ports), fishing, and dumping of dredged material.
The reef being on the list of endangered sites would have far-reaching impacts on tourism and the economy in Queensland all over Australia
. The perception of the reef as dying or damaged would likely reduce visitor numbers significantly, and would hugely limit any development in the area.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said in June
of the upcoming decision: "The Great Barrier Reef is the jewel in Australia's tourism crown. The tourism industry understands this and will continue to make significant contribution to its long term protection."
Not in danger - yet
Having examined the report, submitted on the 30th of January, the World Heritage Committee has decided that the Great Barrier Reef is not yet in a bad enough state that it needs to go on the list of properties in danger. However, the decision was far from a clean bill of health for the reef, and a progress update was requested to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre by the 1st of December 2016, with another state of conservation report by the 1st of December 2019.
The Department of the Environment in Australia put together a Long-Term Sustainability Plan
in response to the World Heritage Committee's initial concerns and recommendations, and this will be in effect from 2015 to 2050. This plan played a large part in keeping the Great Barrier Reef off the endangered list, and will involve commitments and investments by the federal government, Queensland, traditional landowners and other interested parties to ensure the reef remains healthy in future decades.
In their draft decision
which was confirmed during Wednesday's proceedings, the World Heritage Committee noted that it "welcomes the State Party's efforts, in consultation and partnership with stakeholders, to establish the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2050 LTSP) that outlines an overarching vision for the future conservation of the property" and requested that the State Party "rigorously implement all of its commitments of the 2050 LTSP, 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 resilience."
The future of the Great Barrier Reef is a concern for all Australians and all cruise lovers. With lines like P&O
and Royal Caribbean
offering fantastic Queensland itineraries, we hope that the LTSP and the guidance of the World Heritage Committee will see the reef preserved and even improved for the generations which come after us.