Chinese Unesco official defends plan to list Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’

Tian Xuejun rejects Australia’s ‘groundless accusations’ that China influenced the finding to score political points

By Graham Readfearn and Adam Morton

The Chinese host of a United Nations world heritage committee has defended a proposal to label the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, and rejected Australian government suspicion that China influenced the finding for political reasons.

It came as the Morrison government sought to use a new report by Australia’s marine science agency to argue there had been widespread coral recovery on the reef.

The report, by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, found coral coverage along the 2,300km reef had increased after a year of benign conditions without high ocean temperature or cyclones.

But it also said the new corals growing in the wake of three mass bleaching events in the past five years were of a fast-growing species that could be quickly wiped out by storms, ocean heatwaves and coral-eating starfish.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) world heritage committee is meeting both virtually and in the Chinese city of Fuzhou for the next two weeks. Consideration of the draft recommendation the reef be listed “in danger” is expected on Friday.

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