The UN’s cultural agency UNESCO welcomed on Tuesday commitments from Australia to protect the Great Barrier Reef, with the government pledging 4.4 billion Australian dollars ($2.9 billion) to safeguard the natural wonder.
The fate of the reef has been a recurrent source of tension between UNESCO and Australian authorities, with the UN agency’s World Heritage Committee threatening to put the world’s largest coral system on a list of “in danger” global heritage sites.
Behind-the-scenes diplomacy and lobbying from Australia have avoided such a move and fresh commitments from the Labor government of Anthony Albanese, made in a letter seen by AFP, drew praise from the Paris-based organisation on Tuesday.
“UNESCO welcomes Australia’s decision to put in place urgent new protection measures for the Great Barrier Reef which were recommended by the organisation, including a ban on gillnetting,” UNESCO said in a statement sent to AFP.
In a letter sent by Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay last week, she pledged “combined investment of A$4.4 billion” from the state Queensland and Australian governments to protect the reef.
“Our governments are pleased to further commit substantial actions to secure the future of the Reef. These measures include substantial fisheries reforms; accelerated action to improve water quality; and strong, legislated climate action,” Plibersek wrote.
Albanese’s centre-left government, which ended nearly a decade of conservative rule in May last year, has also blocked a planned coal mine because it would endanger the reef and has scrapped funding for two dams in Queensland.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the country’s premier tourist drawcards and putting it on the in-danger list was seen as risking putting off international visitors.
UNESCO began a monitoring mission on the reef in March 2022 to assess whether the site was being adequately protected.