Public Letters Climate Change

Leading Voices in Support of UNESCO’s Great Barrier Reef recommendation to the World Heritage Committee, July 2021

July 15, 2021

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s natural wonder, a part of our national identity, loved and revered around the world.

Stretching for more than 2,000 kilometres, the World Heritage area is a vast network of coral reefs, mangroves forests, seagrass meadows and many other ecosystems that host iconic species such as whales, dolphins, marine turtles, dugongs and more than 1,600 species of fish.

The Reef’s inscription on the World Heritage List forty years ago noted its superlative natural

Sadly, the Reef is no longer as biodiverse as it was then and in parts its beauty is diminished.

UNESCO has recommended to the World Heritage Committee placing the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The recommendation is based on the best available science from Australian and Queensland government reports.

In 2019, the Australian Government downgraded the outlook for the Reef to ‘very poor’. This was predominantly due to two severe coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 fueled by global heating. There was a further severe event in 2020.

Despite some progress to reduce agricultural pollution in some catchments, the overall condition of the inshore environment remains poor. Illegal fishing and the capture of threatened species (such as turtles) remain a high risk.

We acknowledge that the Australian and Queensland Governments have made new investments to tackle local threats and there has been significant progress in strengthening Queensland’s laws and regulations.

However, the level of effort is not adequate to match the threats. This is particularly the case with climate change where the Australian Government’s lack of leadership has left
Australia ranked last on climate action out of UN member countries. (1)

We urge the World Heritage Committee to act on the advice of IUCN, which last year downgraded the Reef’s outlook to critical.

We urge the Committee to call on Australia to put in place ‘corrective measures’ addressing climate change and local threats. A national plan compatible with 1.5°C of warming is a critical threshold for the Great Barrier Reef.

We urge the Committee to put science before politics; conservation and protection before national interest; and to uphold the spirit and letter of the Convention.

We look to the World Heritage Committee to endorse UNESCO’s draft decision.

Endorsed by:

Dr Aila Keto AO
President Australian
Rainforest Conservation
Society, Adjunct Prof, Winner
of the Volvo environment prize
Adjunct A/Prof Alastair
Marine Biology, James Cook
Dr Anika Molesworth
Founder Farmers for Climate
Action, agroecology scientist
and author
Belinda Baggs
World champion surfer,
co-founder of Surfers For
Ben Oquist
Executive Director, The
Australia Institute
Bernard Fanning
Musician, lead vocalist
The Hon. Bob Debus AM
Chair, Colong Foundation for
Wilderness, former Minister for
Environment NSW
Adjunct Professor Bill Hare
Climate scientist, CEO Climate
Analytics, Murdoch University
Dr Charlie Veron OAM
Former Chief Scientist AIMS,
‘godfather of coral’, author
Dan Ilic
Presenter, comedian,
Damon Gameau
Film director – ‘2040′, ‘That
Sugar Film’, and actor
David Thomas AM
Founder of The Thomas
Foundation, initiator of the
Fight for the Reef campaign
David Williamson AO
Australia’s most published
Dr Dean Miller
Marine biologist, Managing
Director of Great Barrier Reef
Di Morrissey AM
Author of 27 best-selling
novels, environmentalist
Diane Tarte
Reef water quality expert
Dr Eddie Hegerl AO
Marine biologist, key figure in
Save the Reef campaign,
Eddie Smallwood
Bindal Traditional Owner,
Chairperson of Gudjuda
Reference Group
A/Prof Elizabeth Tynan
Award winning author and
Associate Professor James
Cook University
Father Chris Riley
Advocate and carer for
disadvantaged young people
and voice for injustice
Geoffrey Cousins AM
environmentalist, author and
community leader
Geraldine Brooks AO
Journalist, novelist and
Pulitzer prize winner
Graeme Kelleher AO
Former Chair and CEO, Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park
Hayley Morris
philanthropist, Executive
Director of The Morris Group
Heidi Lenffer
Musician, founder of FEAT
solar investment movement
led by artists
Imogen Zethoven AO
Conservation advocate, advisor
to Australian Marine
Conservation Society
Isabel Durant
Actor and danc
Prof John Quiggin
Professor in Economics,
University of Queensland
Dr Jon Day PSM
Former member Australian
Government World Heritage
delegation (2007-2011)
Kristin Williamson
Journalist and author
Laura Wells
Scientist, environmentalist,
model, TV presenter
A/Prof Linda Selvey
Public health physician,
epidemiologist, University of
Lisa Blair
Australian Adventurer – Three
times World Record Holder for
Dr Lindsay Simpson
Award winning author,
journalist and Reef tourism
Mike Berwick AM
Five term Douglas mayor,
senior corporate advisor
Mike Cannon-Brookes
Co-Founder and Co-CEO of
Mike Munro AM
Journalist and TV presenter,
formerly with 60 Minutes
Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
ARC Centre for Excellence in
Coral Reef Studies, University
of Queensland
Paul Aubin
Founder of CAREFISH
The Hon Peter Garrett AM
Midnight Oil lead singer, former
Australian Environment
Adjunct Prof Peter Valentine
Conservation Science, James
Cook University, World
Heritage expert
Phil Rist
CEO – Girringun Aboriginal
Prof Richard Kenchington
Professorial Fellow, University
of Wollongong, formerly
Executive Director of GBRMPA
Richard Leck
Head of Oceans,
Rob Purves AM
Businessman, philanthropist,
founder of Purves
Environmental Fund
Rowland Hill
Director (2007-2020) of The
Thomas Foundation
A/Prof Sarah Hamylton
President, Australian Coral
Reef Society
Simon Baker
Hollywood Actor and Director
Sue Sargent
Marine Scientist and Educator
Prof Terry Hughes
ARC Centre of Excellence in
Coral Reef Studies, James
Cook University
Prof Tilman Ruff AO
Advocate for nuclear
non-proliferation and
Tim Winton
Writer, four times winner of the
Miles Franklin Award and
AMCS Patron
Dr Vanessa Pirotta
Marine scientist, Macquarie