Heart Reef, located in Hardy Reef. Photo: Jumbo Aerial Photography. © Commonwealth of Australia (GBRMPA)
Australia is committed to protecting one of our greatest natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef. To protect this World Heritage listed site and to maintain and manage its global outstanding universal value, the Australian Government is investing an additional $204 million, delivering on a commitment to spend a record $1.2 billion to protect, manage and restore the Reef.
For further information on this record new investment in the health of the Reef please visit the DCCEEW 2022-23 Budget factsheets.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most unique and biologically diverse natural environments, made up of a variety of different aquatic ecosystems. Covering an area of 348,000 square kilometres, it is the world's most extensive coral reef system and is so large it can be seen from space.
The incredible maze of coral reefs, continental islands, coral cays and mangrove islands is visited by almost 1.9 million people every year. Another one million people are lucky enough to live in the region.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 for its unique natural attributes and enormous scientific and environmental importance.
The Reef is part of our national identity and is inextricably linked to the heritage of Australia’s First Nations peoples – the oldest, continuous culture on Earth.
World Heritage Committee
World Heritage Committee decision on the Great Barrier Reef
UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions that threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.
In July 2021, the World Heritage Committee rejected by consensus a recommendation to inscribe the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The World Heritage Committee instead asked Australia to submit an updated report on the conservation status of the Reef (a previous report was submitted on 1 December 2019) and invite an expert monitoring mission to visit the Reef and assess its conservation status.
Australia submitted an updated State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef on 1 February 2022, which identified that the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef remains intact.
The monitoring mission took place from 21-30 March 2022. It provided two experts from UNESCO and the IUCN the opportunity to review the outstanding work of reef communities, reef managers, marine scientists, and First Nations people in protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
The report from the expert mission is one of many inputs that will inform the World Heritage Committee’s decision on the status of the Reef. The World Heritage Committee is scheduled to assess the Reef at their next meeting.
Report of the Reactive Monitoring Mission
The Report of the Reactive Monitoring Mission to the Great Barrier Reef provides a series of recommendations based on an assessment of Australian management arrangements and policies that were in place in March 2022.
The Australian and Queensland Governments have engaged in constructive dialogue with UNESCO in recent months.
The key issues highlighted including actions to advance reef protection from climate change, water quality and fisheries. Specific recommendations to address these issues include:
- increased action to address the impact of climate change on the Reef
- additional funding to support Reef water quality
- a need for sustainable fisheries, improved data validation and addressing threats to protected species from fishing gear.
The report recognises the ‘unparalleled science and management efforts’ undertaken on the Great Barrier Reef and the ‘excellent and outstanding work’ of numerous stakeholders in its management and conservation.
While the report concluded that the property met the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, Australia does not consider that an In Danger Listing is necessary or appropriate response at the present time.
Climate change is the biggest threat to all coral reefs world-wide. Placing the Great Barrier Reef on the in Danger list is not the best way to address the problem, practical action on climate change is.
The Australia and Queensland governments are already doing what an in Danger listing is intended to incentivise: we have already implemented polices and committed new funding that address the recommendations in the mission report.
Australia has increased investments to support collective action to protect the Great Barrier Reef with a record A$1.2 billion of new funding to help build the Reef’s resilience, improve water quality and protect marine life from 2022 to 2030. This new funding takes our total investment for the Reef to more than $4.4 billion.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the best managed World Heritage properties, with a strong planning and investment framework in place to address key threats. The Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef remains intact.
The mission experts assessed the Reef based on the former Australian Government’s climate policies. This assessment significantly contributed to the draft report recommendation that the Reef be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Since the report was drafted in March 2022, the new Australian Government has committed to ambitious action on climate change and increased investments to protect the Reef.
Australia also recognises the report’s recommendation for us to make the most of our ‘extraordinary access to state-of-the-art managerial and scientific expertise, institutional and political support, and access to significant financial resources,’ which we will do.
Australia remains dedicated to advancing our strong relationships with UNESCO and the World Heritage advisory bodies to best protect our World Heritage properties into the future.
Australia is actively managing the threats to the Reef and providing unprecedented levels of investment to implement conservation and protection measures.
One of the recommendations listed in the report was that the Reef might be considered for in Danger listing. This is a decision to be made by the World Heritage Committee at their next meeting.
Australia considers that placing the Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger will not address or improve outcomes for the Reef. In Danger listing is intended to incentivise better management action and attract financial support. The Reef is already one of the best managed World Heritage properties globally. Given the level of investment and management action directed at the Reef, it is unclear what in Danger listing would achieve.
Australia is committed to working with others in the World Heritage system to support the protection of World Heritage sites globally from the impacts of climate change.
Increased action on climate change
Climate change is a global issue that requires a global solution. At least 83 World Heritage properties, are currently at high or very high threat from climate change.
Australia is committed to being part of the global effort to manage climate change impacts and improve the health of reefs worldwide.
The Australian Government has legislated a new 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent and achieve zero net emissions by 2050.
To support this, new measures will be delivered through the Powering Australia Plan to reduce emissions, and an annual statement to Parliament on climate policy, progress against targets and international developments will be implemented.
Australia’s 43 per cent by 2030 target is a significant step up in our ambition and represents an achievable and responsible contribution to global efforts to keep 1.5 degrees of warming within reach.
Increased level of investment in the Great Barrier Reef
The Australian Government is injecting an additional investment of $1.2 billion to 2030, on top of the $3 billion the Australian and Queensland Governments have already invested in the Reef since 2014.
This funding will support projects to help the Reef adapt to climate change, improve water quality, protect marine life, and enhance participation and partnering opportunities for Traditional Owners in the protection of the Reef. It will also accelerate progress towards meeting our goals under the Reef 2050 Plan, which is the centrepiece of Australia’s Reef protection efforts.
World-class fisheries management
The report also includes recommendations relating to sustainable fisheries, improving data validation and addressing threats to protected species.
Australia’s fisheries are among the best managed in the world. Comprehensive systems are in place to protect marine biodiversity and support sustainable fish stocks, including joint zoning plans with the Queensland Government and strong enforcement approaches.
Work to improve fisheries sustainability is being delivered under the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017–2027 and the Australian Government’s accreditation of the Coral Harvest Fishery in 2021 will improve data validation, environmental risk assessments and monitoring of high-risk fisheries.
The report of the Reactive Monitoring Mission will be one input that informs the development of advice on the conservation status of the Great Barrier Reef, which will be provided to the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee for consideration. A final decision will be confirmed by the World Heritage Committee when it meets.
The 45th session of the World Heritage Committee will be held on 10-25 September 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Australia will work with the World Heritage Centre and the IUCN to address the report’s recommendations, noting actions that address many of the recommendations are already being delivered through the Reef 2050 Plan.
About the World Heritage Committee
The World Heritage Committee regularly reviews the state of conservation of all properties inscribed on the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage Committee has considered the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area since 2011.
In its decisions, the World Heritage Committee has requested that the Australian Government undertake a range of measures to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef is not compromised.
State Party reports
Australia has been working hard to address the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee. It has submitted detailed State Party reports to the World Heritage Committee since 2012.