Originally published by Scimex

The UN body, UNESCO, has kept the Great Barrier Reef off the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ for now, recommending a further report be submitted to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2024 for examination by the World Heritage Committee in 2024.

Organisation/s: UNESCO

Funder: UN


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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr J.E.N. (‘Charlie’) Veron is the Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science

“This is a very short-sighted finding and, as before, it appears that politics, whatever its guise, has triumphed over reality. My book A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End (Harvard, 2008) resulted in an Emergency Meeting of the Royal Society, London (Is the Great Barrier Reef on Death Row?) chaired by Sir David Attenborough followed by hundreds of documentary videos interviews and articles. The Great Barrier Reef has followed the path that scientists long predicted. “

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 3:33pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

None declared.

Associate Professor Jane Williamson is a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist from Macquarie University where she leads the Marine Ecology Group.

“While it is good news that environmental conditions around Great Barrier Reef have improved over the last 12 months, the Reef is certainly not in the clear yet. Much of the credit for the recent lack of bleaching goes to the fairly benign weather conditions we experienced last summer, but as we approach the coming El Nino-influenced summer, we could soon see a very different outcome. One good bit of news is around some improvement in water quality, but there’s still substantial work to be done to meet our 2025 water quality targets, and it’s critical these land-based efforts to reduce runoff continue.

UNESCO will be very closely watching Australia’s output and making sure that we do hit the targets that we have pledged, and it is up to all of us to do our part to ensure that target is achieved.

There have been strong commitments in the area I work in, around sustainable fishing practices and better biodiversity management for the Great Barrier Reef, and steps are underway to remove all gillnet fisheries by 2027 – a move that could potentially be accelerated with better support. Fisheries play a critical role in the health of the reef, and governments need to look beyond what we are doing now, and explore smarter, more sustainable fishing technologies.

Ultimately though, the single factor affecting the Reef’s survival is CO2, and Australia needs to meet its current commitments and ramp up its progress towards net-zero emissions.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 3:03pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

I chair the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee and sit on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Sydney Institute of Marine Science. I am a member of the Technical Advisory Panel for Plastic Oceans Australasia and an editor for the journals Frontiers in Marine Science, Oceans and Remote Sensing. I am funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for the IMR project, in which I work alongside commercial fishers and QDAF.

Kylie Walker is CEO Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). She was also Former chair of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO from 2017-2020.

“Despite UNESCO’s recommendation against listing the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’, the Reef remains under serious threat from global heating and water pollution, which demands immediate action.

Witnessing the current stresses our marine ecosystems are under due to the effects of climate change is devastating, particularly as we see the increased risk of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures as a result of a predicted El Niño summer.

As climate drivers exacerbate global warming conditions, the health of the Reef and our many wonderful marine ecosystems are in dire risk. To safeguard the Reef, we must take decisive measures to prioritise improving water quality, implementing sustainable fishing strategies, and acting swiftly to reduce emissions in line with keeping global heating at 1.5°C.

If we cannot keep global temperatures below an increase of 1.5 degrees, it is estimated that 70-90% of the world’s coral reefs will disappear and with the increasing frequency of heat waves, there will be no period of respite for our reefs.

Australia’s current emissions reduction commitments are still incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C this century. To limit warming, Australia must embrace technology-led decarbonisation targeting our highest-emitting sectors. This will require concerted efforts across Federal and state governments to make deep cuts in the highest emitting sectors of the Australian economy. Our reefs cannot wait.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 2:34pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

None declared.

Professor Terry Hughes is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and Federation Fellow and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. He was a contributing author of the Inter-Academy Statement on Ocean Acidification (representing the Australian Academy of Science).

“The UNESCO update on the Great Barrier has kicked the can down the road – delaying the next assessment on listing the Reef as “in danger” by another year.

Australia is required to deliver yet another report by 1st February 2024 on progress towards meeting water pollution targets, reducing land-clearing, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

In the meantime, the Australian Government continues to permit and subsidise new fossil fuel projects. As El Niño conditions strengthen once more, it’s very likely we’ll see another mass bleaching event next summer, just after the report is written.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 11:19am

Declared conflicts of interest:

None declared.

Dr Kimberley Reid is an atmospheric scientist from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at Monash University

“At 2°C warming, scientists expect a 99% decline in global coral reefs by the end of the century. Current global emission reduction policies put us on track for 2.7°C warming by the end of the century. It doesn’t take a genius to see the problem here. The solution is equally simple: our leaders must do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero regardless of what official lists the Great Barrier Reef is on.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 11:17am

Declared conflicts of interest:


David Booth is Professor of Marine Ecology at UTS, and President of the Australian Coral Reef Society

“Once again Australia’s Great Barrier Reef faces a grim summer. Coral bleaching and the associated loss of habitat for fish and marine creatures is coming on a mass scale, with a strong El Niño forecast. 

Will the Federal Government finally face up to reality and stop all coal and gas production and export – especially new gas developments such as the Adani field? It is almost too late to save the Reef, along with its huge tourism and fishing industries.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 11:17am

Declared conflicts of interest:


Professor Jodie Rummer is a Professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University, Townsville

“Regardless of the ‘in danger’ listing outcome, the important, urgent conversation is regarding the severe threat that the Great Barrier Reef faces from accelerating climate change and that this number one threat remains if we do not double down on our efforts to reduce emissions this decade.

The conversation is timely whilst our Northern Hemisphere neighbours have been suffering heatwaves and breaking hundreds of thousands of years of temperature records. Bushfires have plagued the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe. And even here, in Australia, we are experiencing heatwave conditions in the middle of our winter season.

Unprecedented warm winter conditions as we move into a summer season with a predicted El Niño cycle spells further danger for the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve already seen six mass coral bleaching events, four of which have occurred just in the past seven years, and we know the increased frequency and severity of marine heatwaves that are fuelled by ongoing climate change are the cause. We can lead by example, and our government can take that stance by rapidly shifting us to clean energy and limiting our emission contributions so we can properly protect our national icon and maintain our stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef responsibly. The time is now.”

Last updated: 01 Aug 2023 11:16am

Declared conflicts of interest: