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 2014

On 24 January 2014, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, and on 17 February 2014, submitted supplementary information; both are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/documents. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also received many contrasting reports from other sources (For example: http://awsassets.wwf.org.au/downloads/mo032_fight_for_the_reef_report_to_the_unesco_world_heritage_committee_30jan14.pdf).  

The State Party released the draft Strategic Assessments (SA) undertaken by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and by Queensland (Coastal Zone), together with a programme report in each case. These are substantial documents, supported by a range of subsidiary studies, and public consultation on them has recently concluded. Meetings between the State Party, IUCN and the World Heritage Centre were also held. Further revision of the drafts is anticipated to address the comments made and to lead to the conclusion of the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD), expected to be completed by June 2015. 

The GBRMPA draft SA underlines concerns expressed by the Committee regarding serious decline in the condition of the GBR, including in coral recruitment and reef building across extensive parts of the property, and that a business as usual approach to managing the property is not an option.

It further indicates that climate change remains the most significant threat to the long-term health of the reef. The SA concludes that the loss of resilience is not attributable to any single cause but to the effect of cumulative impacts and that management is not keeping pace with these.

The State Party reports progress towards the Reef Plan targets based on the latest Report Card and notes the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. Improvements in catchment management are noted to be encouraging, although they will take time to translate into improved status of the marine environment. A Scientific Consensus Statement on water quality was completed and emphasizes that sustained and greater effort will be needed to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef. GBRMPA draft SA concludes that continued use of pesticides is likely to remain a concern regarding catchment run-off over the next 25 years, and that potential changes to the present broad scale land clearing legislation could increase the nutrient and sediment loads entering the reef.

The following documents related to coastal development were released:

The State Party reports that no new port developments or associated port infrastructure has been approved outside long-established major port areas in the property or that would have an unacceptable impact on its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). Four projects were approved at Abbot Point and Curtis Island. The Abbot Point development, which includes proposed dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredged material inside the property, was approved with conditions, including a required 150% net benefit for water quality. In addition an inquiry is underway regarding a leak from the bund wall in the Port of Gladstone intended to confine dredge spoil.  The State Party report also notes five other federal approvals of projects, including two within the property, and the withdrawal of four proposals.

The State Party indicates limited progress on the requested review of governance arrangements and the need for increased attention, and is an area where the LTPSD could provide a significant opportunity for improvements.

The State Party is working towards devolving federal decision taking powers regarding proposed actions that fall under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to State and Territory level. Within that framework, a bilateral agreement between the Australian and Queensland governments was signed on 13 December 2013 through which the Queensland Government is given decision taking powers for the environmental assessment and approval of any proposed actions that may impact the property. The agreement aims to avoid the need for businesses to seek approvals across multiple levels of government.

The comments from NGOs include extensive critique of decision taking by government bodies, and the WWF/AMCS document contains a substantial annex on concerns regarding suggested weakening of the regulatory framework in Queensland in relation to the protection of the property.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

It is recommended that the Committee welcome the progress achieved by the State Party towards improved water quality and encourage it to sustain, and where necessary expand, the efforts to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef.  The significant work undertaken by the State Party on various studies of the management of the property and the wider region is acknowledged, including GBRMPA’s work on operationalizing the Statement of OUV in the management of World Heritage properties, which provides a possible model for wider application.

It is also recommended that the Committee welcome the progress made with the SA and the preparations for the LTPSD.  Considering that completion of these documents is anticipated and consideration by the Committee is planned for 2015, substantive analysis on their results will be undertaken next year, when the GBR Outlook Report will also be completed. It should also be reiterated that the LTPSD needs to result in concrete and consistent management measures sufficiently robust to ensure the overall conservation of the property and its OUV, in particular addressing major drivers of reef decline such as water quality and climate change, and the need to constrain coastal development and associated activities, address cumulative impacts and increase reef resilience. The LTPSD will also need to lead to tangible and measurable restoration of threatened and degraded attributes of the property’s OUV, and address the legal, institutional and financial basis to ensure implementation can be assured, monitored and effectively governed. It will also need to demonstrate a clear and appropriate response to concerns raised during the public consultation and carry public confidence in its foundation and conclusions.

Regarding coastal development, it is noted with concern that major decisions have been taken before the relevant SAs and LTPSD have been completed. Whilst noting the intentions to constrain port development within the PPDAs in the draft QPS, this strategy requires strengthening in order to put into legislation the State Party’s commitment to protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development, as well as a rigorous commitment to ensure that no port developments or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing long-established port areas within or adjoining the property. The PPDAs are anticipated to require new port master plans, and these will need to ensure protection of sensitive areas identified in the zoning plan for the GBRMP. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to ensure rigorously that proposed development outside the proposed PPDAs is not permitted, and that development inside PPDAs should only be permitted if it is demonstrated that it will not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the property.

The proposed dumping of dredged material from the proposed Abbot Point development is also noted with concern. Indeed, this was approved, despite an indication that less impacting disposal alternatives may exist.  It is considered that the suggested achievement of a 150% net benefit on water quality from compensation for the consented dredge disposal appears inappropriate without a specific timescale for its rapid and guaranteed achievement prior to development proceeding, and a clear indication of the implications for progress on water quality against the Reef Plan targets, in addition to the uncertainty about the impacts of dredge material plumes beyond the disposal site. This is of particular concern given evidence suggesting that the inshore reefs in the southern two-thirds of the property are not recovering from disturbances over the past few decades. The further approval on Curtis Island adds to concerns addressed in previous Committee decisions.  

Increased attention is needed to complete the required work on reviewing governance of the property and the transfer of decision-making powers from the Federal Level to the State Level appears premature until the governance requirements to implement the LTPSD have been considered. It is crucial that the mission recommendation regarding institutional and management arrangements (R11) is completed and that the eventual governance of the property carries the confidence of stakeholders.

Given the range of significant threats affecting the property and the conflicting information about the effectiveness of recent decisions and draft policies, significant concern remains regarding the long-term deterioration of key aspects of the OUV of the property, and the completion of work to tackle short- and long-term threats. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee consider, in the absence of substantial progress on the key issues addressed above, the inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 39th session in 2015.

Decision Adopted: 38 COM 7B.63

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-14/38.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decisions 36 COM 7B.8 and 37 COM 7B.10, adopted at its 36th (Saint-Petersburg, 2012) and 37th (Phnom Penh, 2013) sessions respectively,
  3. Welcomes the progress being made by the State Party with the Strategic Assessment and reiterates its request to the State Party to complete this work, responding fully to the past decisions of the Committee, in order to ensure that the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD) results in concrete and consistent management measures that are sufficiently robust, effectively governed and adequately financed, to ensure the overall long-term conservation of the property and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including in view of addressing cumulative impacts and increasing reef resilience;
  4. Also welcomes the progress made by the State Party with regard to water quality, in particular the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement and the progress toward the Reef Plan targets as stated in the most recent Reef Plan Report Card, and encourages the State Party to sustain and where necessary expand these efforts, and their funding, to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef;
  5. Further welcomes the State Party’s intention to focus port development to the Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs) and its confirmation that these will exclude the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay, and north Curtis Island, as well as the State Party’s stated commitment to “protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development”, and urges the State Party to ensure that the finalized Queensland Ports Strategy ensures that the above mentioned commitments are fully integrated and are consistent with the LTPSD, and confirms that no port developments or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property;
  6. Requests the State Party to ensure the full completion of the independent review of the institutional and management arrangements for the property, as recommended by the 2012 reactive monitoring mission, as a key input to the LTPSD, and considers that the transfer of decision-making power from Federal to State levels, before the vision, framework with desired outcomes and targets, and governance requirements to deliver the LTPSD have been adopted, is premature, and should be postponed to allow further consideration;
  7. Notes with concern the recent approvals for coastal developments in the absence of a completed Strategic Assessment and resulting Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development, and regrets the State Party’s approval for dumping 3 million cubic metres of dredge material inside the property prior to having undertaken a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options, and also requests the State Party to ensure that the option selected does not impact OUV, and is the least damaging option available;
  8. Also notes with concern that the provisions of the Queensland Ports Strategy cannot be applied retroactively, and therefore strongly urges the State Party to:
    1. Ensure rigorously that proposed development outside PPDAs is not permitted and that developments within PPDAs do not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the property,
    2. Ensure that plans to be developed for each PPDA exclude from development areas identified as of conservation significance under the 2003 Great Barrier Reef Zoning plan;
  9. Recalls that the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment and resulting Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development, as well as the findings of the second Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, should be considered at its 39th session in 2015 (Decision 36 COM 7B.8);
  10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, 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 reactive monitoring mission report, and the documents relevant to the Committee’s past decisions, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to its Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.