1.         Great Barrier Reef (Australia) (N 154)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1981

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

March 2012: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2013

On 31 January 2013, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. The report provides a response to Decision 36 COM 7B.8, a summary of progress on the recommendations from the March 2012 reactive monitoring mission and a notification of proposed developments consistent with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines and as requested by Decision 35 COM 7B.10. An updated notification of proposed developments from the State Party was received on 29 March 2013. A significant amount of information, including an evaluation of progress by a range of noted Australia based NGOs (WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society. 2013. Status and Implementation of Recommendations in World Heritage Committee Decision 36 COM 7B.8, Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and the March 2012 reactive monitoring mission, was provided to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN. These reports are available at: http://m.wwf.org.au/index.cfm?6081/Report-to-the-UNESCO-World-Heritage-Committee). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN further note the outcomes of a number of important scientific and technical reports released during 2012, indicating significant loss of coral cover over the past 27 years resulting mainly from storm damage, climate change effects and crown of thorns starfish and concluding that reducing crown of thorn starfish outbreaks are a key factor in restoring the loss. The World Heritage Centre has asked the State Party for its comments on the information. At the time of finalizing this report, no reply had yet been received from the State Party.

a)  Coastal development

The State Party reports that, as requested by the Committee, no new port developments or associated port infrastructure have been approved outside existing long-established major port areas. However, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that no explicit policy statement by the Australian government has been made that assures port development outside of existing major port areas are not permitted. The State Party reports that currently a total of 43 proposed developments are being assessed for potential impacts on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

On 31 October 2012, the Queensland Government released a draft Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy 2012-2022 for public consultation. The document sets out the vision and principles for the Queensland government’s approach to port planning and development in the property, and proposes to prevent “significant” development outside existing port areas until 2022, but does not restrict development to the existing footprints of individual ports. According to the Strategy, development can occur in all areas identified in the land use plans for each port. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports indicating that in recent years a number of port boundaries were extended significantly to include areas of significant habitat that contribute to OUV. They note that the Queensland Deputy Premier’s media release announcing the draft Port Strategy stated that future development would be possible “at several locations such as Balaclava Island and Port Alma in the Port of Gladstone”. They also note that both these locations are outside existing major port areas (40 to 50 km away from the port of Gladstone), in the relatively undeveloped Fitzroy River delta, and that there is currently no development on Balaclava Island that could justify its classification as an existing port area.

The State Party reports that the Queensland Government policy and planning framework “Draft Coastal Protection State Planning Regulatory Provisions” is expected to continue to provide protection of key coastal biodiversity values and ensure appropriate planning arrangements for coastal development. However, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports that the proposed changes to land use planning legislation would a) significantly weaken protection of ecological features of the reef, including (riparian) vegetation in the property’s catchments; b) require assessment of matters related to coastal protection for fewer types of development, and only for development proposals located in the narrow coastal management district; and c) weaken the provisions for dredging and disposal of dredged material.

On 19 February 2013, the Australian Government announced the Terms of Reference for the Independent Review of the Port of Gladstone, and a scientific review panel was established. Their tasks include a review of all previous findings and information used as a basis for the current approvals for development at the Port of Gladstone. A final report of the findings of the independent review is expected by 30 June 2013.

b)  Strategic Assessment and Long Term Plan for Sustainable Development

The State Party reports that the strategic assessment of the property (led by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the strategic assessment of the adjacent coastal zone (led by the Government of Queensland) are on track and a sustainable development plan will be provided for review to the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015. While the strategic assessments concentrate on assessing the effectiveness of planning, management and institutional arrangements to protect matters of national environmental significance, the long term sustainable development plan is envisioned to establish clear principles and outcomes to achieve the long-term future conservation of the property.

c)  Water Quality

The State Party notes the Australian government’s commitment to a second phase of Caring for our Country over 2013-2014 to 2017-2018 and to continue its investment in the Reef Rescue programme, but no details about the amount of the investment are provided. It is noted that the Queensland Government confirmed its ongoing commitment to the objectives and targets of the Reef Plan and to maintain the existing AUS$ 35 million annual budget allocation for reef water quality initiatives in addition to AUS$ 2 million to improve education about improved land management practices among farmers.

The State Party mentions that it will continue to report progress towards the goals and targets of the Reef Plan through annual report cards. However, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that only one such report card has been published at the time of this report (in August 2011, describing the 2009 baseline). A second report card (for results up to mid-2010) was scheduled to be published in early 2012 but has not been delivered.

d)  Overall protection and management of the property

The State Party notes that management of the property is complex and requires consideration of reasonable human use consistent with the need to maintain the property’s OUV. The State Party also notes that progress is being made to articulate and, where appropriate, map the OUV of the property and indicates this work will contribute to the Strategic Assessment. Required improvements in the current management arrangements will be specified in the Strategic Assessment reports. It is further reported that work is also undertaken to identify and assess more clearly the aesthetic, geological/geomorphic and indigenous heritage aspects that contribute to the OUV of the property. Work is also underway to divide the Statement of OUV into smaller ‘elements’ which will enable a detailed assessment of the condition and trend for all aspects of the property’s OUV, benchmarked at its 1981 state. Results of this work are envisioned to be integrated in the 2014 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report.

The State Party further notes the establishment of a new Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve, covering 989 842 square kilometres adjoining the property, which could substantially enhance the integrity and protection and management of the property, provided it is effectively implemented.

e)  Other issues - progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission and climate change

The State Party reports on the status of implementation of the recommendations made in the mission report. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that, whilethere has been some progress with some of the mission’s recommendations, overall progress remains limited. They consider it essential that progress is achieved across all recommendations, in support of the overall long-term sustainable development of the reef, without pre-empting implementation of the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment.

In December 2012, a new Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan were released. The strategy outlines a vision toward adjusting industries and communities to a changing climate and envisions improving the overall outlook of the property. Initiatives were also undertaken to share the innovative climate change adaptation measures with other countries where coral reef systems suffer from the effects of climate change.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee welcome progress achieved by the State Party with the Strategic Assessment and the establishment of an independent review for the management arrangements for Gladstone Harbour. They consider that the consultation process of the GBRMPA-led strategic assessment appears strong, but that the one undertaken by the Queensland Government has only limited stakeholder involvement to date. Given the substantial legislative and policy responsibility of the Queensland Government in future developments that could impact the OUV of the property, it is essential that the related Strategic Assessment has robust stakeholder engagement and consultation. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee reiterate its request that the assessment address fully the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of developments in and adjacent to the property and lead to concrete measures to ensure the overall conservation of the OUV of the property. They note that the time for the review of the management arrangements for Gladstone Harbour is very short (4 months) considering the wide range of environmental and socio-economic concerns and the critical need for comprehensive recommendations toward port development and associated operations, including shipping. They also recommend that the Committee request the State Party to ensure that this review results in optimization of port development and operation in Gladstone Harbour and on Curtis Island, as well as other existing port developments, consistent with international standards for best practice.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that some of the actions undertaken by the State Party appear inconsistent with the requests made by the World Heritage Committee. While the State Party has not approved port developments outside existing major port areas, there is also no clear commitment toward limiting port development to existing port areas. This is further supported by the continued possibility under the Queensland Government’s Great Barrier Reef Port Strategy for development outside existing major port areas (for example, Balaclava Island and Port Alma), the proposed Queensland Government changes in land use legislation, as well as the ongoing support for development of facilities other than ports and associated infrastructure in the absence of the completion of the Strategic Assessment.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that in addition to the above-mentioned concern related to coastal development, another key concern is the lack of clarity about whether the negative trend in water quality continues to be reduced and the positive signs of restoration are maintained, as annual water quality report cards have not been published as predicted. They recommend that the Committee urge the State Party to confirm a clear financial commitment by the Australian Government to maintain the Reef Rescue programme as a matter of urgency.

In its previous decision, the Committee decided to consider the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in the absence of substantial progress. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the view that the State Party has made progress on some key issues and actions but progress on several recommendations, including those related to water quality and measures to prevent coastal development that can negatively impact on the OUV of the property and/or undermine the outcomes of the forthcoming Strategic Assessment, remains limited. Urgent and decisive action is needed to address these issues. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to undertake the following actions in order to maintain the property's OUV: a) make a clear financial commitment to maintain the Reef Rescue programme and ensure water quality continues to improve, b) halt the approval of coastal development projects that could individually or cumulatively impact on the property’s OUV and compromise the ongoing Strategic Assessment, and c) ensure that the legislation protecting the property remains strong and adequate to maintain and enhance its OUV. They further recommend that the Committee consider the Great Barrier Reef for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 38th session in 2014 in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment on these priority issues by the State Party.

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 7B.10

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.8, adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),

3. Welcomes the progress made by the State Party with the Strategic Assessment and reiterates its request to the State Party to ensure that the assessment and the resulting long-term plan for the sustainable development of the property are completed against defined criteria for success, fully address direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on the reef and lead to concrete measures to ensure the conservation of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property;

4. Also welcomes the establishment of an independent review of the management arrangements for Gladstone Harbour, and requests that these efforts result in the optimization of port development and operation in Gladstone Harbour and on Curtis Island, as well as other existing port developments, consistent with the highest internationally recognized standards for best practice commensurate with iconic World Heritage status;

5. Also welcomes the renewed commitment for the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and associated Reef Rescue measures and the positive results indicated in the Second Reef Plan Record Card;

6. Notes with concern the limited progress made by the State Party in implementing key requests made by the Committee (Decision 36 COM 7B.8) and the recommendations of the March 2012 joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission as well as on-going coastal development on the Reef, and urges the State Party to strengthen its efforts in order to fully implement the Committee requests and mission recommendations that have not yet or only partially been implemented, including by making commitments to:

a) Ensure rigorously that development is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on the OUV of the property, or compromise the Strategic Assessment and resulting long-term plan for the sustainable development of the property,

b) Ensure that no port developments or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property,

c) Ensure that the legislation protecting the property remains strong and adequate to maintain and enhance its OUV;

7. Considers that the above-mentioned issues represent a potential danger to the OUV of the property in line with paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;

8. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2014, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property, including on the implementation of actions outlined above as well as on the other points raised in the 2012 mission report, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 38th session in 2014, with a view to considering, in the absence of substantial progress, the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.