Great Barrier Reef: UNESCO status under threat?

Australia downgraded the long-term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef to “very poor” in a report released Friday, with the deterioration of the reef threatening its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s report highlighted record-breaking sea surface temperatures as a result of climate change as the biggest threat to the future of the reef, with other factors including pollution and overfishing adding to the bill of ill health.

Warm waters can cause coral bleaching, where the coral expels the algae living in its tissue, causing it to turn white and in many cases die.

The Great Barrier Reef already has already suffered two recent major bleaching events, in 2016 and 2017.

The reef has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. But UNESCO is set to re-assess its status when it meets next year and may move it to its list of heritage sites “in danger”.

It has asked for a copy of the report as part of its assessment.

The 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. It is home to around 1,625 species of fish and thousands of other marine animals

They include dozens of endangered species whose survival may depend on the health of the reef.

“This report draws attention to the fact that the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef, the long term outlook, is very poor, that's largely driven by climate change,” said Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief scientist David Wachenfeld.

“But despite that, with the right mix of local actions to improve the resilience of the system and global actions to tackle climate change in the strongest and fastest way possible, we can turn that around.”