The Great Barrier Reef is not currently "in danger," according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. However, the World Heritage Committee that made that decision did express concerns over the long-term environmental prospects for that region.

The categorization was made as the committee met in Bonn, Germany, although the conclusion still has the status of a "draft decision." Officials from UNESCO will decide whether or not to confirm that conclusion in June at a meeting of the committee.

"[C]limate change, poor water quality from land-based run off, impacts from coastal development and some remaining impacts of fishing are the major threats to the property's future health. As a result of these cumulative impacts, further exacerbated by recent major storms and floods that are expected to become more frequent, key habitats, species and ecosystem processes ... have deteriorated," the UNESCO Heritage Committee wrote in the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014.

The Great Barrier Reef is usually considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The area contains 600 islands and 3,000 coral reefs, including 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish. Around 2 million tourists visit the area each year, adding $4.6 billion dollars (U.S.) to the economy of the Land Down Under.

Committee members stated there are several steps the government of Australia must make to preserve the reef for future generations. Among these are prohibiting the construction of any additional shipping ports in the region and ensuring the quality of water near the reef. The group directed officials in Canberra to implement environmental reforms within 35 years and stated they would be checking in on that nation's progress during that time.

Australian officials announced earlier in 2015 that they would reverse a decision allowing the dumping of dredged material into waters off Queensland and would work to reduce other pollution in the region by 80 percent by the year 2025.

Coal mining operations taking place in Queensland, in the northeastern part of the country, have been an area of concern for some environmentalists, who are worried about dangers of shipping fossil fuels through the region, which is so diverse in lifeforms. A coal carrier operated by China ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010, raising a massive public outcry.

"This decision has been described by some as a reprieve for the Reef. It is not a reprieve — it is a big, red flag from UNESCO. By insisting that the Australian government prepare a report within 18 months ... UNESCO has clearly shown that the Great Barrier Reef is not fine and is not safe in Tony Abbott's hands," said Shani Tager, Greenpeace Australia Reef campaigner, referencing the prime minister of her country.

Photo: Brian Gratwicke | Flickr

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