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Latest government reef report just ‘gilding the lily’

By Mark Beale

AN EXPERT on the Great Barrier Reef has labelled the Abbott Government’s latest report to UNESCO as “gilding the lily”, saying it ignores the role of climate change in the reef’s decline.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Monday released the latest “state party report” to the World Heritage Committee, summarising what the government has done to protect the reef in the past year.

Mr Hunt said the report showed the government had “heard the concerns of the committee and we have comprehensively addressed every one of them”.

He said while the reef was facing “challenges”, the government was making “significant progress”, despite concerns the draft Reef 2050 Plan may not be enough to turn around the decline.

But the head of the nation’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Professor Terry Hughes, described the report as “gilding the lily” on what has actually been done.

Prof Hughes said while Mr Hunt’s letter to UNESCO talked about “the wonderful things he’s done to appease UNESCO”, it did not address the international body’s concerns.

“(Mr Hunt) said that he would ban the dumping of capital dredge spoil in the marine park, but that’s not the same as the World Heritage Area – he hasn’t done anything to curtail dredging in that area,” he said.

“He also talks about the reef being the best managed reef in the world, but the long-term issue is climate change, and UNESCO’s own report on World Heritage Areas cited many are threatened by climate change, but arguably that’s the weakest part of the (Reef 2050) plan.”

The report also claimed the decline of the reef was “not solely” the consequence of gaps in current laws and governance.

But Prof Hughes said while there was more money spent on the reef in Australia than other nations spend on their reef conservation, a better question was whether that management was effective, and “patently, it isn’t”.

The UNESCO committee will consider the report as it prepares for a meeting in June when an “in-danger” listing will be considered for the World Heritage site.

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