The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, will meet in France on Friday to unveil a draft decision over the status of the Great Barrier Reef, the release of which is being closely watched by Australia because it will have important implications for its tourism and economy.
The Great Barrier Reef is listed as a World Heritage site and Australia's most important natural wonder, and could be put in UNESCO's "in danger" list.
This would be an embarrassment for Australia, which claims the reef may be have been damaged over the years but is not in danger. Environmental groups accuse the Australian government of not doing enough to prevent damage, which is mostly the result of bleaching, pollution, overdevelopment and climate change.
The reef system has lost 50 percent of its coral since the mid-1980s, after it was listed as a heritage site. UNESCO wanted to add the reef to the "in danger" list three years ago, but the decision was delayed.
Many observers believe the UN body will also not be able to reach a decision this time because of heavy lobbying by the Australian government, which fears the serious economic implications of the decision on miners, farmers and tourism operators. The government is worried a possible "in danger" ruling will restrict the opening of new coal mines and coal ports near the reef, while activists say they remain concerned about the reef's long-term health.
The Great Barrier Reef is also vital for Australia's tourism industry, contributing an estimated $6 billion to the national economy each year.
The "in danger" list aims to warn the world about the threatening conditions threatening world heritage and urge governments to take necessary protective steps. A site can be removed from the list if those steps are taken.
Ecuador's Galapagos Islands were put on the "in danger" list in 2007 for illegal fishing and urbanisation that damaged the unique biodiversity, but were removed from the list in 2010 when Ecuador made changes to stop the destruction.