A delegation from UNESCO, the United Nation’s top environmentalist group, has arrived in Australia to investigate environmental damage on the Great Barrier Reef.
The visit was announced last year, following UNESCO’s “extreme concern” over the Queensland Government’s controversial approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) developments and port facilities on Curtis Island.
An official report will be finalised later this year and handed to the World Heritage Committee, which will decide whether the reef should be classified as a “Site in Danger.”
The delegation’s arrival has already been branded as “embarrassing” by conservation group WWF, according to AAP.
Environmentalist groups are calling on the state government to suspend all mining developments on the reef.
“(The mining boom) is a reckless expansion that will have direct impacts both in terms of the dredging as well as the increased shipping, as well as the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef,” said John Hepburn from Greenpeace Australia.
According to a report by the The Australian National Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ACIUCN), the reef will face “death by a thousand cuts” as a result of pressures from the increasing population coupled with the mining boom.
The report predicts that a population boom in Queensland’s coastal areas and a large increase in shipping through the reef will become major concerns.
“There are figures being quoted between a four-fold increase in shipping and a more than ten-fold increase,” said Professor Richard Kenchington, chair of the ACIUCN.
Despite the controversy, Premier Anna Bligh expressed confidence in the state’s environmental standards.
“I think we’ve got a very good track record of getting it right,” said Ms Bligh. “If they’ve got insights that we can learn from then of course we want to hear about that.
“(But) what I think they will find is a very impressive set of government regulations that protects this reef at a level beyond anything that you would see in just about any other part of the world.”
However, Greens Senator Larissa Waters said that evidence found at Gladstone Harbour, where marine life has found with skin lesions and cloudy eyes, suggests otherwise.
She said the UNESCO delegation will “see the scars on Curtis Island, they’ll see the increased boat traffic which is contributing to wildlife deaths and squeezing out the tourism and fishing industries,” according to AAP.