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Australian infrastructure triggers Great Barrier Reef row

Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef seems to have dodged a potentially embarrassing ‘at-risk’ designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But the premier of the state mainly responsible for the reef has pledged that development in the region will not be slowed by growing concerns over the condition of this natural wonder.

A report from an expert committee sent by UNESCO to assess the reef has made it clear that, should some of the proposed industrial developments in the region go ahead, the area may well merit inclusion on its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The “outstanding universal value” of the site is threatened, according to a summary posted online, and “decisive action is required to secure its long-term conservation”.

But at the moment, the report suggests, the reef does not merit inclusion on the danger list. The main UNESCO Heritage Committee will consider the expert recommendations at its upcoming meeting, which begins on 24 June.

Australia’s environment minister Tony Burke welcomed the report and said that the threats highlighted by it — which centre around infrastructure developments — were acknowledged in a 2009 report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s greatest treasures, it is one of Australia’s most significant environmental places and has been recognised as one of the healthiest coral reef ecosystems, and best managed marine areas in the world,” said Burke in a statement.

But the premier of Queensland, the state nearest the reef, has come out swinging. Campbell Newman is widely quoted in the Australian press as saying that the infrastructure developments that are worrying UNESCO will not be halted.

“We will protect the environment but we are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down,” he reportedly said, adding, “We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that.”

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