The Great Barrier Reef. (IANS Photo)
CANBERRA, SEPTEMBER 7 (IANS): Australian conservation groups warned on Monday that the country's World Heritage-listed wilderness areas were at risk of being tarnished, including the Great Barrier Reef, ancient forests of Tasmania and the remote northern wetlands.
In a letter to the UNESCO Director-General, the group warned of "alarming moves by the government to weaken legal protection for Australia's 20 World Heritage listed properties", reports Xinhua news agency.
Their concerns related to a bill being considered by the Australian parliament that would grant state leaders the power to green light developments which currently require national approval.
Despite being billed as a means to spur economic activity and streamline planning, the proposed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, were found by a review committee last month to be ineffective at protecting unique species and habitats.
As a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, the Australian government has a legal responsibility to identify, protect and conserve for future generations its World Heritage sites, in addition to them being a source of national pride and Australian identity.
Australian Conservation Foundation CEO, Kelly O'Shanassy explained that these areas are also home to some of Australia's most unique and treasured wildlife, including threatened species such as koalas, the cassowary and the grey-headed flying fox.
"The plan to hand environmental powers to states and territories would make these species and their habitats more vulnerable than ever," O'Shanassy said.
Birdlife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan added that Australia has been a world leader in conservation and helping secure World Heritage listings both at home and overseas.
"But we risk losing World Heritage sites in our own backyard if state governments and greedy developers get their hands on Australia's nature law," he said.