It has been reported by The Guardian that all references to bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef have been scrubbed from a Unesco report over fears from the Australian government that it would harm tourism.
The World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report discusses and examines more than 30 sites declared to be “vulnerable” due to the many dangers posed by climate change.
On the page presenting the report, a small paragraph in the footer reads:
At the request of the Government of Australia, references to Australian sites were removed from the Report (recent information about the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef is available on UNESCO’s website here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3234).”
Australia’s Department of the Environment has stated that it was concerned about the “framing” of the report, which it feared would have created confusion between the issues of the status of world heritage sites, and the risks arising from climate change:
The department expressed concern that giving the report the title ‘Destinations at risk’ had the potential to cause considerable confusion:
Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of World Heritage properties impacted on tourism.”
The barrier generates more than A$5 billion in revenue for the country every year, although it is unclear how many tourists plan their holidays by consulting Unesco reports.
Discolouring occurs when the sea temperature is too warm, forcing the coral to expel living algae, causing it to calcify and turn white.
Coral that has only mildly been affected by the condition can recover if or when the temperature drops to normal levels.
Although experts agree that some of the bleaching will have been caused by this year’s El Nino, which has now finished, the underlying causes of the condition are thought to be heavily associated with climate change.
Mass bleaching has permanently destroyed at least 35 per cent of the north and central reefs, with the mortality figure expected to rise, according to Australian scientists who released information this week.
According to Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, “This year is the third time in 18 years that the Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass bleaching due to global warming, and the current event is much more extreme than we’ve measured before.”
The report also states that fewer reefs have died in the south, as water temperatures were closer to normal summer conditions. Stress from partial bleaching is likely to slow down the rate of reproduction and growth rate.
Oddly, Malcom Turnbull is claiming victory over the issue, having said that the “German Chairman of the Committee, said that our management, that is to say Australia’s management of the Great Barrier Reef, was a world class exemplar of coral reef management.”
Turnbull added that, “there is no question that we are doing a good job.”
Although Australia’s government already has a sketchy relationship with climate change, it seems content to ignore the issue, despite entrepreneur and billionaire, Richard Branson, offering to help the plight of the reefs by partnering with Greening Australia to raise $10 million to plant vegetation and regrade land – which could half the amount of contaminated sediment pouring into the ref.
Branson says that, “the work that Greening Australia are doing will go some way, hopefully saving the reef for generations and generations to come.”
The project is expected to take at least a decade and will require more than $100 million to complete.
Currently the Reef supports more than 70,000 jobs.