New Ports Threaten Great Barrier Reef Heritage Site, UNESCO Says

The Great Barrier Reef should be placed on a list of World Heritage sites in danger if Australia doesn’t limit the building of new coal export terminals and improve water quality, the United Nations said.

New port developments in Queensland state could damage the heritage value of the reef, the world’s largest, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, said in a report issued in Paris yesterday. Named developments include one at Balaclava Island near Rockhampton, where Glencore Xstrata Plc wants to build a terminal exporting 35 million metric tons of coal a year.

Queensland has five coal and natural gas infrastructure projects committed to go ahead with a combined value of A$6 billion ($6.2 billion) and another 13 which may be feasible valued at A$26 billion, according to a government report last October.

The UNESCO report said that while progress has been made in several areas to protect the reef, more must be done to improve water quality and prevent coastal development that may damage the site. Failure to do so should mean the barrier reef is considered for admission to a list of World Heritage sites in danger, which already includes the Florida Everglades and Sumatra’s rainforests, at a UNESCO meeting next year, the body said in the report.

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to address these issues,” UNESCO said.

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