Media release

The truth about the Great Barrier Reef catches up with the Australian Government

April 08, 2016


Lawyers from US-based Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) say that what scientists are calling the worst mass coral bleaching event in recorded history means the truth about the threat of climate change for the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is catching up with the Australian Government.

Earthjustice and EJA last year released an analysis finding that the Great Barrier Reef meets the legal criteria to be inscribed on the World Heritage Convention’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

“When Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was listed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list in 1981, the IUCN said ‘It seems clear that if only one coral reef site in the world were to be chosen for the World Heritage List, the Great Barrier Reef is the site to be chosen.’”  said Ariane Wilkinson, lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.    

“Sometimes the truth hurts, but the truth is that the Great Barrier Reef, the most outstanding coral reef in the world, already meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and now scientists are recording extensive levels of coral bleaching in the most pristine areas of the Reef,” Ms Wilkinson continued.     

Noni Austin, an Australian lawyer at Earthjustice said “The evidence is clear: climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef’s long term survival, as this latest tragic episode of coral bleaching demonstrates.  A rise in ocean temperatures caused by El Niño and exacerbated by climate change has led to this new episode of bleaching of corals that are already weakened by water pollution and other human-caused stressors.”

“But at a time when we must burn less coal to prevent precisely this kind of harm, the Australian Government has approved the expansion of a coal export terminal at Abbot Point on the Reef’s coast as well as the massive Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin – adding insult to injury by increasing carbon pollution.  

This is despite the World Heritage Committee expressing serious concerns last year about the health of the Reef and finding that the outlook for the Reef is poor.  In light of the current widespread bleaching, and Australia’s determination to allow new developments that will exacerbate climate change, it is certainly open to the Committee to place the Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” Ms Austin continued.

Read the report: Protecting the Great Barrier Reef

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