A UN committee(the UNESCO World Heritage Committee) on June 22, 2021 recommended that the Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of “in danger” World Heritage Sites.
Great Barrier Reef
- It is the world’s most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
- The reef is located in the Coral Sea (North-East Coast), off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
- It can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms.
It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Reasons for the Recommendation to list “in danger”
- The recommendation has been made after the committee’s outlook for the reef and the change in climatic conditions which have resulted in three major coral bleaching events due to severe marine heatwaves, since 2015.
When corals face stress by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. This phenomenon is called coral bleaching.
- Australia has for years been battling to keep the Great Barrier Reef, a major tourist attraction that supports thousands of jobs, off the “in danger” list.
- The recommendation from UNESCO is clear and unequivocal that the Australian Government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change.
- Australia reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita.
About UNESCO’s Heritage “In Danger” List
- Heritage in Danger is compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) through the World Heritage Committee according to Article 11.4 of the World Heritage Convention, which was established in 1972 to designate and manage World Heritage Sites.
- Entries in the list are threatened World Heritage Sites for the conservation of which major operations are required and for which "assistance has been requested".
- The list is intended to increase international awareness of the threats and to encourage counteractive measures.
- Threats to a site can be either proven imminent threats or potential dangers that could have adverse effects on a site.
Current Status of the “In danger”List
- As of July 2019, there are 53 entries (17 natural, 36 cultural) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
- Arranged by the UNESCO regions, 21 of the listed sites are located in the Arab States (of which 6 are located in Syria and 5 in Libya), 16 in Africa (of which 5 are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), 6 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 in Asia and the Pacific, and 4 in Europe and North America.
- The majority of the endangered natural sites (12) are located in Africa.
- The Australian Great Barrier Reef if added will be 54th “in danger” site.
What are corals and How Reefs are formed?
Threat to Coral Reefs
- Coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world. They are also among the most threatened. Today, coral reefs face multiple stressors at different scales.
- When global threats like warming waters combine with direct threats like overfishing and water pollution, it severely compromises the ability of corals to grow, reproduce and thrive.
- As much as one-third of all reef-building corals are at risk of extinction.
Coral Reef Areas in India
- India has four coral reef areas: Gulf of Mannar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep islands and the Gulf of Kutch.
Initiatives by India to protect Coral reefs
- The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), India has included the studies on coral reefs under the Coastal Zone Studies (CZS).
- In India, the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with help from Gujarat’s forest department, is attempting a process to restore coral reefs using “biorock” or mineral accretion technology.
- National Coastal Mission Programme, to protect and sustain coral reefs in the country.
What can be done to protect Coral Areas?
- Conserve water – the less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater will pollute our oceans.
- Reduce the overuse of fertilizers on lawns harm water quality, because nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from the fertilizer are washed into waterways and eventually end up in oceans.
- Organize a beach clean-up. Plastic pollutes ocean waters and harms coral reefs and other sea life.
- Reducing stormwater runoff can help prevent water pollution, reduce flooding, and protect our water resources.