A plan to save Australia's Great Barrier Reef from destruction has been announced as Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to persuade the United Nations that the World Heritage site was not in danger.

The reef has lost about 50 per cent of its coral in the past 30 years, partly because of ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the dumping of spoil from the dredging of sea channels, and pollution from agricultural chemicals. Plagues of venomous crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat coral, have also caused widespread damage.

Abbott once dismissed climate change as "absolute crap" and despite later admitting it was a real issue, has continued to be criticised for his Government's stance on environmental matters.

A draft of the Government's 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan for Great Barrier Reef was condemned for failing to mention climate change, but the final version admits this is "the most significant threat".


Speaking to reporters, Abbott said global warming was "relevant for all reefs including this, the world's greatest reef ... we're making our position clear right around the world - this is a number one priority of the Australian Government: to protect the Great Barrier Reef".

The Abbott Government has been lobbying the 21 member states of Unesco's World Heritage Committee in an attempt to stop it from recategorising the reef as being in danger at a meeting later this year.

Australia's 35-year plan envisages spending more than A$2 billion ($2.05 billion) over the next decade to protect the reef. An initial sum of A$100 million will be used to cut the run-off of sediment, fertilisers and pesticides into the sea, which Steven Miles, Queensland's Environment Minister, said was the biggest medium-term threat.

One of the most controversial issues is dumping of spoil waste from dredging designed to keep sea channels clear for shipping. The plan bans the dumping of spoil from new channels in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park but not the World Heritage Site, which has a slightly different boundary. It also allows the dumping of spoil from maintenance dredging of existing channels.

WWF Australia said the plan contained "a number of good initiatives" but not enough firm commitments of cash. Boss Dermot O'Gorman said "billions not millions are needed to save the reef", adding this wasn't unreasonable given the reef contributed about $6 billion a year to the economy.

- Independent