UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova visited Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the weekend of 15-16 November for a firsthand look at the way the World Heritage site is being managed. Her visit came amidst widespread concerns over the health of the reef, which experts say is threatened by climate change, pollution and other environmental issues that make careful, long-term planning absolutely essential.
Ms Bokova was guided by Andrew Powell , the Queensland Environment Minister; Kimberley Tripps Deputy Secretary of the Federal Department of the Environment; and Russell Reichelt, Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. She visited reef sites around Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday group and met with local tourism leaders and officials, as well as some of the rangers responsible for the guarding the Reef against illegal activities.
Discussions ranged from zoning regulations in the Marine Park to the impact on the corals of global warming, coastal development and land use, as well as measures already taken to limit pollution and improve water quality.
The Director-General described the talks with the Australian authorities as “constructive.” She welcomed the announcement by the Federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, that dumping dredged sediment into the reef’s marine park will be banned. The government has started listening to international concerns, she said, and this was “very encouraging”.
Ms Bokova was in Australia for the World Parks Congress, organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She also spoke at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit that preceded the Congress and held several bilateral meetings with Federal government leaders, including Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General and Arts Minister George Brandis.
The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981. It is one of 19 World Heritage sites across the continent.