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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is ‘in danger,’ UNESCO mission says

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Australia is pushing back on a United Nations-backed mission's recommendation to add its treasured Great Barrier Reef to the list of endangered World Heritage sites, saying there was no need for such a decision.

The latest warning about the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem cited climate change, coastal development and deteriorating water quality, calling for greater conservation efforts "in large part due to the sheer scale of the challenge." The mission's report was released this week after a March visit by officials from the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Great Barrier Reef contributes more than $4 billion a year to Australia's economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs, the government says. Home two some 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish, the sprawling reef has been a World Heritage site since 1981.

Giving 'Mother Nature a little bit of a boost' on the Great Barrier Reef

The UN agency classifies 52 such sites as "in danger" and says the goal is to encourage action to protect them.

Australia's environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said Tuesday that the new government was already taking action to protect the reef, more so than when the inspection took place while the previous administration was in office. She said the government has committed nearly $800 million to caring for the reef.

“No one loves the Great Barrier Reef more than Australians. No one is more determined to protect it than the Australian government," she told reporters. "We'll clearly make the point to UNESCO that there is no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way," she said.

The UN-backed mission said it "sympathizes with" concerns that designating the reef as "in danger" could impact vital tourism. But it added that such a designation could also position Australia as “a world leader in conserving globally significant natural heritage.”

It's not the first time UNESCO has faced opposition from Australia for suggesting the listing. A similar recommendation fell through last year, but it was revisited this year.

In its new report, the UN-backed mission said it acknowledges that climate change requires "a global solution." Its recommendations for the Great Barrier Reef include boosting funding for protection efforts, reducing "excess use" of fertilizers and pesticides in nearby sugar-cane and banana farms, and phasing out gillnet fishing, which can entrap creatures such as sea turtles. It also highlighted the danger of mass bleaching events triggered by warming waters, which can kill coral reefs.

Photos show vast coral spawning event in Great Barrier Reef, giving divers hope for climate change recovery

The decline of the world's reefs threatens millions of people who rely on them for food, jobs and protection from flooding — as well as billions of dollars in goods and services.

UNESCO told the Associated Press that it has had "a constructive dialogue" with Australian authorities in recent months. "But there is still work to be done," it said. A decision on whether to officially label the reef as endangered is expected to be made next year by the World Heritage Committee.

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