The World Heritage Committee of U.N. agency UNESCO, meeting in Doha
this week, deferred until 2015 a decision on whether to place the
300,000-sq-km reef on its list of sites in danger.
"We welcome Australia's progress in managing the reef," panel
director Kishore Rao said in a statement. "UNESCO is confident the
overall direction towards next year's decision is a positive one."
Some estimates say contamination from agricultural and mining
industries operating near the coastline has destroyed half of the
reef's coral cover, but this figure is disputed.
"The committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger
action to protect the Great Barrier Reef," said Richard Leck, a
spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund.The reef has the world's
largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500
species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, and is home to threatened
species, including the dugong and large green turtle, according to
the World Heritage list.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
is concerned over proposed coastal developments, including the
building of ports and natural gas facilities.
It has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of
conservation of the reef, which sprawls over an area half the size
of Texas, by next February 1.
Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, has said it will not
finance a controversial coal port expansion near the reef, in
response to calls from green groups and tourism operators.
An Australian government report released last week showed a drop in
sediment run-off, widely associated with one of the reef's biggest
threats - the displacement of coral-eating starfish.
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The report also cited better land management that led to a 28
percent cut in pesticide run-off on to the reef.
Sugarcane is grown on large tracts of land near the reef, while coal
freighters regularly ply nearby waters.
Australia is investing about A$180 million ($169.18 million) every
year to protect and rehabilitate the reef, says Environment Minister
"The Great Barrier Reef is facing challenges but we are absolutely
committed to protecting and improving the health of this iconic
natural wonder so it can be enjoyed by future generations," Hunt
said in a statement.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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