T this year Australia 's Big Tourist Map celebrates its 40th anniversary as a UN World Heritage Site - a list where more than 1,100 of the most important sites of mankind are recognized and protected.
But on Friday, a committee of 21 countries will decide if he wants to listen to the advice of the United Nations Organization for Science and Culture, Unesco, and put the The Great Barrier Reef on his list of “endangered” places.
It's not the feast of 40th anniversary legions of reef fans had hoped for - admired its 2,300 km kaleidoscope of corals atfrom a table book or a mask and a snorkel.
Because whatever happens at the meeting , there no longer seems to be a scenario where the threat of an "endangered" list disappears for Australia.
And whatever the decision committee, experts and activists say the events of the past few weeks will prove historic not only for the reef, but also for the rest of the world's natural wonders that could be added to the list by climate change.
Coral-dominated ecosystems are expected to be one of the first to collapse due to global warming, caused by the world's inability or unwillingness to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.
After Unesco appealed to the World Heritage Committee last month, the Australian government launched a lobby efforting frantic and energetic to keep the reef off the list.
Ambassadors from over a dozen countries wearing snorkel fins and masks have been deposited on Agincourt Reef in the 'Far North Queensland, while Environment Minister Sussan Ley was shipped on a diplomatic jet to Budapest, Madrid, Sarajevo, Paris, Oman and the Maldives.
A document that will be highlighted at Friday night's committee suggests Australia may have won enough support among its members to avoid the "endangered " list until at least 2023.
By a two-thirds majority of the committeee is needed to put the reef on the list, but there could be last minute moves. But Australia 's own amendments still leave in the text "possible inion " on the hazard list in 2023.
The reef was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 , just three years after the very first natural sites - including the Galapagos Islands and Yellowstone National Park - were declared "of outstanding universal value for mankind".
The potted story of how the reef made the list begins with the 1960s conservation campaigns to block limestone mining and oil drilling, leading to royal commissions and eventually laws to create the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Richard Kenchington, now professor at the National Center ausTralien for Ocean Resources and Security at Wollongong University, was working on authority in the late 1970s when asked to coordinate the report which asked the World Heritage Committee to inscribe the reef.
At the time, the main concerns for the reef, he says, were finding ways to control star outbreaks eating coral - a problem that persists today.
"Being one of the first nominations for the list comes from this global awareness growing in importance. This was a very large marine area that was managed under legislation and was considered to be very exciting around the world. "
He says the way the reef is managed is still correct recognized as the world leader, but although many of the approximately 3,000 individual reefs are still speCtacular, they will never be "the same as they were in the 1970s " before climate change set in.
In addition to the threat climate, Unesco says progress has been too slow in reducing the pollution that drains into the reef from farms - mainly sugarcane and grazing properties.
The World Heritage Committee last discussed the reef in 2015, but since then there have been three mass bleaching events caused by rising ocean temperatures.
Scientists have spoken of the emergence of water smelling of dead and dying coral flesh. The system's recoverability was on the brink of collapse.
"All of the world's marine environments are threatened by climate change. Period," Kenchington says.
Alongside the aggressive response of the government to the prospect of a "in danger", the recommendation of Unesco triggered an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the office of Queensland Premiere , Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Letters reveal that Queensland rejected on Wednesday a demand from Morrison to immediately sign a new version of the Common Reef Policy.
In P aris, the Australian Government Ambassador to the Unesco, Megan Anderson, had sent a summary of the draft of this new policy to committee members.
Environmentalists familiar with the content say in its current form, it does not not going far enough to improve water quality or to lock in commitmentsAustralia to reduce emissions based on an increase in global temperatures to 1.5 ° C - a level requested by Unesco.
Anderson also sent committee members a draft of the Australian Institute of Marine Science's latest annual monitoring report on the state of corals across the reef. She said this showed "widespread recovery was underway ".
The report also states that the increase in coral cover since The 2020 bleaching event was dominated by fast-growing species susceptible to storms and coral-eating starfish, and would be the first to participate in the upcoming bleaching event.
"The predicted consequences of climate change, which include more frequent and intense consequences massive coral bleaching events are now acontemporary reality, "the report says.
Protecting fossil fuels
Australia is a producer and exporter global coal and gas, and the country's resource lobby is powerful. When the Guardian revealed that oil-rich Saudi Arabia supported Australia's position, there was a clear lack of surprise in some quarters.
Prof Tiffany Morrison, James Cook University, has researched how countries and the UN deal with threats to World Heritage sites.
In research published last year , she found when the World Heritage committee gets asked to put places on the 'endangered' list, it is the resource-dependent countries that push back the most harshly.
But why has Australia put so much effort into it?
Australia made procedural arguments pushing back, claiming that Unesco should have sent a follow-up mission first (which, as procedure dictates, Australia would need to make a formal request). Unesco says that such a mission is not necessary, especially when the evidence for the predicament of the reef is so clear.
But the Professor Morrison believes there is another unexplained reason for Australia's unconditional lobbying.
"If the reef is on the 'endangered' list, the social license for the government to approve further fossil fuel extraction drops. It is not about tourism. It's about social license, ”she said.
Australia's lobbying effort, she says, has now put up a testand the integrity of the World Heritage Committee.
"This is essential. Do [committee members] support the intentions of the convention [to protect world heritage] or allow this to be undermined? "
She says Unesco has previously been reluctant to try to deal with threats to sites that are not immediately local - climate change being the most obvious "non-local" threat.
"But the change is now affecting everything, and you can't really ignore it anymore," she said. "This is crucial for the World Heritage Committee in that it is starting to tackle climate change in a way it has never done before. ”
This lack of precedent, Prof. Morrison says , is used by Australia to say that climate change should be left to the United Nations convention thati concluded the Paris agreement.
Daniel Gschwind is the managing director of Queensland's leading tourism organization, the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.
Degradation of parts of the reef, bleaching events making international headlines and how has these problems when visitors board boats is a challenge, says Gschwind. He says the reef is well managed and remains a spectacular experience for tourists.
"But we have to tackle these things head-on and with some degree of 'honesty,' he says. "We owe it to ourselves to follow the science.
" Tourism operators are obviously not excited about the prospect of the reef making headlines for the wrong reasons. This is not good news for us.
"But whatEither way, now or in the future, I firmly believe that this must be our call to the world to do more on climate change. The reef is under threat and we must do something. "