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UNESCO expresses alarm, warns Australia over Great Barrier Reef

UNESCO has warned Australia that it could place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage in Danger List. This follows the approval of a plan to dump dredge waste nearby.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a report released by its Paris headquarters on Thursday that it had recommended that the marine park of the Australian coast be considered for inclusion on the danger list.

The report said UNESCO had "noted with concern" and "regrets" a

decision by the Australian government

in January to grant a permit to dump three million cubic meters of dredge waste around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the reef. It also said the permit "was approved despite an indication that less-impacting disposal alternatives may exist."

The waste is to come from the Abbott Point area and is part of plans to expand the port there.

The report recommended that the Reef be put on the danger list at a meeting next year "in the absence of substantial progress on key issues."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supported the UNESCO warning.

"UNESCO'S concern is shared by

thousands of Australians and hundreds of leading scientists

and we call on the federal government to ban dumping of dredge soil in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area prior to the World Heritage Committee meeting," Richard Leck, the WWF Australia spokesman said.

Canberra responds

The Australian government, though rejected the criticism.

"Protection for the Great Barrier Reef is an ongoing challenge," a statement released by Environment Minister Greg Hunt said.

"We are confident that we have the processes, resources and environmental protection mechanisms in place to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef continues to be among the best managed and protected World Heritage areas in the world."

The Great Barrier Reef has the world's largest collection of coral reefs and is home to 1,500 species of fish.

pfd/hc (Reuters, AFP)

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