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Jan 22, 2013 at 08:30pm IST

Great Barrier Reef may be stripped of world heritage status, say environment groups

Sydney: The Great Barrier Reef near Australia could be stripped of its world heritage status if action is not taken to better protect the natural icon from coal and gas developments, environment groups have said. A coalition of such groups has launched the "Fight for the Reef" campaign in Canberra, saying politicians were putting the reef's international reputation at risk, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs. It has over 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 km. Campaign director Felicity Wishart said that in 2012, Unesco was "sufficiently concerned" enough by proposed developments along the Queensland coast to send a mission to Australia to investigate.

It made a number of recommendations to the Commonwealth and Queensland governments about how to proceed in the best interests of the reef. The global heritage body could place the reef on the "world heritage in danger" list if it does not receive an adequate response by February, the group said.

Great Barrier Reef may be stripped of heritage status

At the centre of their concerns are 45 major industrial developments proposed for the coast.

Wishart said such an action would be an embarrassment that threatens both the reef ecosystem and the $6 billion tourism industry it supports. She said the campaign, formed by the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature, had written to all the major parties in a bid to get the reef on the 2013 election agenda.

At the centre of their concerns are 45 major industrial developments proposed for the coast, including large-scale coal and gas projects that would boost shipping over the reef. Currently, around 4,000 ships make "port calls" through the reef every year, but that number could go up to 7,000 if the proposals go ahead unchallenged, the campaign group warned.

The Great Barrier Reef was granted world heritage status in 1981, but has since faced numerous threats from coral bleaching to cyclones, starfish and commercial activity.

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