Reef concerns remain despite dredge spoil pledge

DESPITE hearing pledges from Environment Minister Greg Hunt to outlaw the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the United Nation's peak environment body says it still has "significant concern" for the future of the World Heritage site.

Mr Hunt made the pledge on Wednesday night at the International Union for Conservation of Nature's World Parks Congress in Sydney.

It came after numerous similar statements, but was the first promise to enshrine them in regulations.

Labor's environment spokesman Mark Butler guaranteed similar, but for the much larger area of the entire World Heritage Area.

Mr Hunt told the conference that after requests from the IUCN to "go further" to protect the reef, he would stop the dumping in the marine park through "regulation".

The pledge was welcomed by environmentalists, but has yet to come before parliament.

Also, it would not involve new legislation but a regulation that could be overturned by future ministers.

However, the listing of the reef in the IUCN's World Heritage Outlook as under "significant concern" was the strongest sign yet that the World Heritage Committee could next year list the reef on its "in danger" roll.

The listing was based on several factors including concerns for a trend of the "deteriorating" values of the reef, such as declines in threatened species; and the "very high threat" to the reef's future posed by climate change, port developments, sediment run-off and poor water quality.

However, despite lingering concerns about the marine park authority, following a round of redundancies at the authority, the IUCN rated current management "effective".

"There are some strategic issues concerning climate change and sustainable development that must be resolved to ensure long-term conservation," the report read.

"Although the management authority has taken massive and innovative measures in order to protect the property, until the status of values is shown to improve, some concerns remain."

The report also said that despite "excellent management" to deal with the threats facing the reef, "the level of threats to the site's values is very high".

"While individual decisions and management approaches appear in themselves adequate, the cumulative impacts of many decisions, on top of the legacy impacts and impending impacts of climate change, are of significant concern," the report read.

The IUCN's World Heritage Committee will meet in June next year to consider the listing of the reef, and the government is expected to release a report by February on what is being done.


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