Australia Given 1 Year to Keep Great Barrier Reef Off World Heritage 'In Danger' List

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By Reissa Su | June 19, 2014 5:53 PM EST

The World Heritage Committee has agreed to give Australia another year to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the list of World Heritage sites. The country has received an "international dressing down" for allowing dumping and dredging in the reef's waters.

REUTERS/Handout .
A picture of brightly coloured coralline, bryozoans and sponges on ocean floor on Antarctic continental shelf. February 8, 2011. REUTERS

The committee decided to push back the move to put the Great Barrier Reef on the list of "in danger" sites until a meeting in 2015. The decision has given Australia a year to address the concerns raised by the UNESCO in 2012 concerning the health of the reef, particularly the impact of ports and resources development near the shoreline.

Conservation groups have warned that the dumping may irreparably damage the coral reef as it survives on a delicate mutual relationship between its plants and animals. The corals are considered the backbone of an entire ecosystem.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the World Heritage Committee was being "misinformed" about the status of the reef. The Australian government has sought to soothe concerns about the possible downgrade of the reef's World Heritage status after it released a report showing large reductions in pollution run-off into the Great Barrier Reef's waters. Both the national and Queensland governments received praise for improving the water quality on the reef. However, the threat of dredging remains, according to reports.  

Labour environment spokesman Mark Butler said the World Heritage Committee had given the government a "harsh verdict" regarding the way it protects the reef. Butler called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to reconsider the turnover of federal environmental powers.

He said the protection of the Great Barrier Reef should be handled by the national government. Reports said the committee may have given its third and final warning before declaring the reef "in danger."

Recent scientific studies have shown a significant loss of coral cover in the last 27 years.  The damage to corals is caused by climate change, storms and the increasing population of crown of thorns starfish.  Reducing the number of this starfish species is the key factor to restore coral cover based on research studies.  

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(Photo: REUTERS/Handout . / )
A picture of brightly coloured coralline, bryozoans and sponges on ocean floor on Antarctic continental shelf. February 8, 2011. REUTERS
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