UNESCO To Downgrade Status Of Great Barrier Reef


    In News

    UNESCO has decided to downgrade the status of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.



    • The UN body released a draft report recommending the reef’s World Heritage status to be downgraded because of its dramatic coral decline.
    • Although the Report did commend Australia’s efforts to improve reef quality and its financial commitment.
    • UNESCO has recommended that a total of 7 sites be added to the endangered list and that two sites – Liverpool’s waterfront and Selous game reserve in Tanzania, where poachers have run amok – be stripped of their World Heritage status altogether.


    Australia’s View 

    • The decision to downgrade the Great Reef’s status was politically motivated and flawed,  hinting at China which chairs the UNESCO committee.
    • After Unesco first debated its “in danger” status in 2017, Canberra committed more than A$3 billion (£1.bn; $2.2bn) to improving the reef’s health.
      • The List of World Heritage in danger is maintained in accordance with Article 11 (4) of the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
      • Inscribing a site on the List of World Heritage in Danger allows the World Heritage Committee to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property.
    • However, several bleaching events on the reef in the past five years have caused widespread loss of coral.
    • Carbon Emissions: Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but its conservative government has steadfastly backed the country’s fossil fuel industries, arguing tougher action on emissions would cost jobs.


    Coral Reefs

    • A coral reef is an underwater ecosystem characterized by reef-building corals. 
    • Reefs are formed of colonies of coral polyps held together by calcium carbonate.
    • The coral polyps live in an endosymbiotic relationship with algae. Algae provides up to 90 percent of the coral’s energy.
    • Temperature:
      • The temperature of the water should not be below 20°C. 
      • The most favourable temperature for the growth of the coral reefs is between 23°C to 25°C. 
      • The temperature should not exceed 35°C.
    • Salinity: Corals can survive only under saline conditions with an average salinity between 27% to 40%. 
    • Shallow Water: Coral reefs grow better in shallow water having a depth less than 50 m. The depth of the water should not exceed 200m.
    • Coral reefs are divided into four classes: 
      • fringing reefs, 
      • barrier reefs, 
      • atolls, and 
      • patch reefs. 
    • Fringing reefs are the most common type of reef that we see.



    Great Barrier Reef

    • The Great Barrier Reef is unique as it extends over 14 degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters. 
    • Within this vast expanse are a unique range of ecological communities, habitats and species – all of which make the Reef one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.
    • The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
    • It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.



    • Coral Reefs provide an important ecosystem for life underwater, protect coastal areas by reducing the power of waves hitting the coast, and provide a crucial source of income for millions of people.
    • Coral reefs have an estimated global value of £6 trillion each year, due in part to their contribution to fishing and tourism industries and the coastal protection they provide.
    • More than 500 million people worldwide depend on reefs for food, jobs and coastal defence. 
    • Extracts from animals and plants living on reefs have been used to develop treatments for asthma, arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
    • Coral reefs provides the biodiversity: 
      • Thousands of species can be found living on one reef. 
      • The Great Barrier Reef contains over 400 coral species, 1,500 fish species, 4,000 mollusc species and six of the world’s seven sea turtle species. 
      • The Coral Triangle – a coral-rich marine region in Southeast Asia that encompasses the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea – is the most biologically diverse marine ecosystem on Earth. 


    Challenges for Coral Reefs

    • Physical damage or destruction from coastal development, dredging, quarrying, destructive fishing practices and gear, boat anchors and groundings, and recreational misuse (touching or removing corals).
    • Pollution that originates on land but finds its way into coastal waters. There are many types and sources of pollution from land-based activities.
    • Overfishing can alter food-web structure and cause cascading effects, such as reducing the numbers of grazing fish that keep corals clean of algal overgrowth. Blast fishing (i.e., using explosives to kill fish) can cause physical damage to corals as well.
    • Coral harvesting for the aquarium trade, jewelry, and curios can lead to over-harvesting of specific species, destruction of reef habitat, and reduced biodiversity.


    Threat of Coral Bleaching

    • Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel algae that live inside their tissues. 
    • When corals face stress by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. 
    • This phenomenon is called coral bleaching.
    • Reasons:
      • The leading cause of coral bleaching is climate change. 
      • A warming planet means a warming ocean, and a change in water temperature – as little as 2 degrees Fahrenheit – can cause coral to drive out algae. 
      • Coral may bleach for other reasons, like extremely low tides, pollution, or too much sunlight.


    Image Courtesy: thestar


    Way Forward

    • The countries could act to improve water quality at the reef, which would increase its resilience to climate change.
    • Make collaborative efforts to mitigate the global effects of climate change – warming seas and increasing sea levels etc.



    • Founded in 1945
    • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialised agency of the United Nations
    • Aims at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, the sciences, and culture.
    • UNESCO’s Headquarters are located in Paris 
    • It has 193 Members and 11 Associate Members 
    • Governed by the General Conference and the Executive Board.
    • 3 UNESCO member states are not UN members: 
      • Cook Islands, 
      • Niue, and 
      • Palestine.
    • 3 UN member states are not UNESCO members:
      • Israel, 
      • Liechtenstein
      • United States


    UNESCO World Heritage Site:

    • A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the UNESCO. 
    • World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other forms of significance.
    • Presently, there are 38 World Heritage Sites located in India
    • India has the sixth largest number of sites in the world.


    Sources: TH