The outlook for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef remains very poor, despite the fact that its recovery has begun in recent years.
The annual report on the state of the unique natural formation was released Monday during a session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which will decide whether coral reefs are designated as an endangered World Heritage site. In June, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended classifying the world’s largest coral reef system as a vulnerable site because the reefs have been largely damaged by climate change.
According to the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS), coral reefs are currently undergoing a regeneration period after being damaged by heat stress for a decade, as well as several hurricanes. However, according to an Australian government agency that has been monitoring the state of coral reefs for 35 years, such periods of grace are becoming rare due to the effects of climate change. Because of extreme weather events and the spread of thorny crown starfish that destroy coral reefs, corals have less chance of regeneration.
Scientists have now found that the amount of hard corals has increased in 69 of the 81 sites studied in the past two years. According to a scientific study published last October, the 2,300-kilometre-long system has lost half of its coral reefs since 1995, and ocean heat waves have caused widespread coral bleaching.
According to Britta Shaflick, director of the research program at AIMS, the latest findings promise that corals are still resilient. However, he added, future prospects are still very poor due to the risks of climate change and other factors affecting the organisms that make up coral reefs.
Australia began applying pressure at the last minute to avoid a World Heritage demotion. The state sent the environment minister to Paris to meet with UNESCO officials and even organized a diving trip to the reefs for key ambassadors last week.
UNESCO has previously called for Australia to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change, but Canberra is yet to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The Conservative government said it hopes to achieve the target as soon as possible without hurting its economy, but stressed that tackling climate change The climate will require a global effort.
The Great Barrier Reef before the pandemic brought an estimated $4.8 billion annually in tourism revenue to the Australian economy. The Australian government now fears that if the reefs are put on the endangered list, it could erode their tourist appeal. A UNESCO decision is expected this week, around July 23.