SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will carry out a comprehensive assessment of development pressure on the Great Barrier Reef to help preserve the world's largest coral reef system, ministers said Saturday.
The assessment will take into account how development along Australia's northeast coast is affecting the reef, Environment Minister Tony Burke said in a joint statement with the Queensland state government.
In 2010, part of the reef was damaged when a Chinese-owned coal ship, the Shen Neng 1, ran aground on it.
The assessment would be the largest of its type ever conducted in Australia and would examine planning applications for rapidly developing Queensland, they said.
The state is an important exporter of commodities as well as a major tourist destination. The reef is one of its main tourist attractions and is visible from space.
"Rather than always dealing with one application at a time this allows an assessment of the region as a whole," Burke said in the statement. "That gives us an opportunity to take into account the cumulative impacts and any indirect impacts such as increased shipping movement."
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said it was a chance to take a long-term view of how best to manage the reef.
"It is up to us to protect this extraordinary place for generations to come," he said.
Queensland state environment minister Vicky Darling said the assessment would "ensure development is well-planned and systems are in place to protect the area's World Heritage values."
The assessment will be discussed next month with a delegation from U.N. body UNESCO, she said.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)