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Australia to expand shipping curbs around Great Barrier Reef

Australia will widen curbs on shipping around the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to protect the endangered coral system, the government said Saturday.

The new plan designates an additional 565,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of the Coral Sea to curbs on shipping, a 140 percent increase, Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said in a statement.

The decision comes as the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral system in the world — which stretches more than 1,400 miles along the Queensland coast of Australia and is home to thousands of marine species — may lose its World Heritage Site status.

Amid growing international concern over the reef’s future, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also said it may add the coral reef to its list of World Heritage sites that are in danger.

The Great Barrier Reef has already lost 50 percent of its coral cover over the past 30 years and continues to face environmental risks from oil and gas mining, pollution, coastal development, climate change and commercial fishing, the Guardian reported.

The reef also faces threats from coal, particularly the coal mining in Queensland, the country’s largest coal-producing state.

“Our new measures enhance protection for the Coral Sea-as well as the adjacent Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area- by helping ships traverse the region safely and avoid potentially hazardous areas,” Truss said.

UNESCO will make its final decision on whether to list the reef as in danger next month.

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