(CNN) The Great Barrier Reef has deteriorated to such an extent it should be listed as a world heritage site “in danger,” a United Nations committee said Tuesday — prompting immediate backlash from the Australian government.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee recommended the listing, recognizing the climate crisis as the driving factor behind the destruction of the world’s largest coral reef. It called for Australia to “urgently” address threats from climate change.
The inclusion will be voted on at the committee’s meeting in China next month.
Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the government will “strongly oppose” the recommendation, arguing the government was investing $3 billion in reef protection. Ley said officials in Canberra were “stunned” by the move and accused UNESCO of backflipping on previous assurances the reef would not be declared endangered.
“The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world and this draft recommendation has been made without examining the reef first hand, and without the latest information,” Ley said in a statement.
In a call with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, Ley said she “made it clear that we will contest this flawed approach, one that has been taken without adequate consultation.”
Spanning nearly 133,000 square miles (345,000 square kilometers) and home to more than 1,500 species of fish and 411 species of hard corals, the Great Barrier Reef is a vital marine ecosystem. It also contributes $4.8 billion annually to Australia’s economy and supports 64,000 jobs, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.