Minister's report defends against UNESCO Reef claims

SIGNIFICANT progress has been made on meeting the World Heritage Committee's concerns about the Great Barrier Reef, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday.

Mr Hunt on Sunday released the Commonwealth's latest report on the status of the reef - a key report aimed at showing what has been done to address UNESCO's concerns about protecting the natural asset.

Those concerns were sparked by the previous government's approval in 2010 of three gas export facilities on Curtis Island, in the World Heritage Area near Gladstone.

The latest report shows action taken by both the federal and state governments over the past year to address a range of concerns about the reef, Gladstone Harbour and environmental protections.

It shows progress on several fronts, including a completed inquiry into the management of Gladstone Harbour last year, and more funding commitments to tackle the crown of thorns starfish and water quality.

But environmentalists are concerns those good works could be undermined by a series of approvals in recent months, including last Friday's approval to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the marine park near Abbot Point.

Three other approvals last year, including another LNG export facility on Curtis Island, and a massive coal mine in the Galilee Basin, could further undermine the government's efforts.

Those approvals were either within port limits, or inland from the reef itself, they could result in rises in shipping traffic through the reef, and the approval of another LNG facility in Gladstone could raise questions for UNESCO.

The Federal Government also has legislation before parliament which would protect those approvals from a legal challenge, if "approved conservation advice" was not taken into account before the projects were approved.

While the World Heritage Committee raised concerns about climate change, water quality and port development along the reef, the resources industry says the biggest issues are being addressed.

Mr Hunt said protecting the reef was "a top priority" for the government, citing a strategic assessment of the reef, the government's Reef 2050 Plan, Reef Trust and the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership (GHHP) among the achievements.

"In close cooperation with the Queensland Government, we are boosting the conservation of the Reef through a range of approaches both on land and in the marine environment," he said.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the GHHP, a draft ports strategy and work on the coastal development part of the strategic assessment were key parts of the state's actions.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the report found the "real threats" were extreme weather events, climate change, the starfish and sediment run-off.

While he did not make mention of the concerns surrounding port developments, Mr Roche said such impacts were "minor, temporary and localised".

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority last week said the approval for dredging at Abbot Point was based on sound science, and would be closely monitored.

The report will inform a meeting of the WHC in June this year, where the international body responsible for the globe's most important environmental assets will decide if the reef should go on a "World Heritage sites in danger" list.