The Great Barrier Reef faces a “death by a thousand cuts” from increased shipping and port development, a World Heritage delegation has been told.
An official briefing document prepared for a World Heritage fact-finding mission that starts today says Queensland’s projected strong population growth increases the pressure.
The document was prepared by the World Heritage Committee’s local representative, the united national committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Despite the warning, IUCN chairman and former Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Richard Kenchington said he was hopeful a strategic assessment announced by the federal and Queensland governments would be able to find a balance between conservation and development. “There are ways that we can find to address in an open, consultative way the issues of environment and development,” Professor Kenchington told ABC radio.
The World Heritage delegation visit is in response to concerns about the projected growth of coal and gas exports through the reef.
If all proposed developments proceed, coal exports along the Queensland coast are estimated to increase from 156 million tonnes last year to almost one billion tonnes a year from 2020. This will increase the number of shipping movements through the reef to more than 10,000 from fewer than 2000 last year.
The World Heritage delegation will visit the reef and industrial development sites including Gladstone, Mackay, Bowen and Townsville to consider whether the World Heritage values of the reef are in danger.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said she welcomed the UNESCO visit and said Australia had a good record of environmental protection. “Of course, we need to be always mindful about the impact of visitors, the impact of tourism, the impact of agriculture and the impact of industry and shipping,” Ms Bligh said. “But I think we have a pretty good track record of getting it right.
“I think UNESCO will find a very impressive set of government regulations that protects this reef at a level beyond anything that you would see in just about any other part of the world.”
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the World Heritage delegation and the Australian government shared a passionate belief in preserving the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef.
He said a strategic assessment of the reef, announced early this month, would improve reef management. “Cumulative impacts need to be taken into account — that is exactly what a strategic assessment is,” Mr Burke said.