PERHAPS readers other than myself were concerned to read in the weekend’s papers of BHP’s intention to explore for oil only five kilometres from the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef off the Western Australian Coast
So what does World Heritage listing mean?
In 1972, worldwide concern over the potential destruction of the earth’s cultural and natural heritage led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to establish an international treaty called the convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage.
More commonly known as the World Heritage Convention, it aims to identify, celebrate and protect the earth’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage, and to ensure it is conserved for all people for all time.
The inscription of a place or property on the World Heritage list is a powerful tool for its protection. Since parties to the World Heritage Convention are obliged to protect and maintain their country’s World Heritage, listing is of course beneficial for the property
In June 2011 the World Heritage Committee inscribed the Ningaloo Coast on the World Heritage list because of the outstanding universal value of the area’s diverse and abundant marine life.
Although most famed for its whale sharks which feed there during March to June, the reef is also rich in coral and other marine life.
During the winter months, the reef is part of the migratory routes for dolphins, dugongs, manta rays and humpback whales.
The beaches of the reef are also an important breeding ground of the loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles.
Is this compatible with exploration for and ultimately extraction of oil?
There can surely be only one answer to this question.
A major problem environmentalists face is that the primary responsibility of a corporation is to increase the wealth of its shareholders. The environment usually takes a secondary role
While primary responsibility for protecting World heritage listed sites remains with the state government, there is one body which has overarching commonwealth responsibilities.
This is the Australian Heritage Council, which is a body of heritage experts established by the Australian heritage council act 2003.
The council replaced the Australian Heritage Commission as the Australian government’s independent expert advisory body on heritage matters when the new commonwealth heritage system was introduced in 2004 under amendments to the environment protection and biodiversity conservation act 1999.
ECCO has written to the council seeking their response to what we consider is the threat posed by BHP’s plan to Ningaloo Reef and we will advise readers of this column of its response.