Reef tourism operators say they are bewildered by a draft recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, saying the world’s largest living organism is “healthy” and “beautiful”.
The World Heritage Committee, which sits under UNESCO, has proposed moving the reef to the list because of the impact of climate change, and will consider the decision at a meeting in China, which is the chair, next month.
The recommendation has sparked fury among those who work on the Great Barrier Reef, including Scott Garden, who owns the Cairns-based reef tour company Passions of Paradise.
“I’m seeing fish, I’m seeing turtles, I’m seeing marine life. It is amazing, just beautiful,” Mr Garden said.
“Has anyone from UNESCO prior to COVID actually flown out here, gone to areas in the Great Barrier Reef and had a snorkel?
“Did they wake up, have a coffee and think: Here’s a great idea, let’s label the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’?
“Yes the reef has had its challenges with crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclones but the reef is healthy and rebuilds itself.”
The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, a non-profit group that represents reef tourism operators, said it was also surprised about the recommendation to list the reef as “in danger”.
The association’s chief executive, Gareth Phillips, who is also a marine biologist, said the Great Barrier Reef was looking “really, really good.”
“Yes, the reef has got its challenges and the tourism industry does not deny that and that’s why we work so hard to operate at high environmental standards and play a role in monitoring the health of the reef and feeding that information back,” Mr Phillips said.
“The reef is a big, beautiful diverse place and it is certainly not a lost cause.
“These sorts of listings are demoralising and it also has an impact on tourism, people don’t want to go out and see something that they think is dead.”
Another blow for the tourism industry
The reef tourism industry has been heavily impacted by the closure of international borders in an industry worth billions to the Far North Queensland economy.
Mr Garden said any recommendation to list the reef as in danger would have a negative impact on tourism.
“It’s not just Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef that it will have an impact on, it’s Australian tourism as well,” Mr Garden said.
“People will say, hang on, the reef is dying or dead so we won’t worry about going to Australia.”