The United Nations is challenging Australia to do something to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation caused in part by costal development.

The UN World Heritage Committee will put the reef on UNESCO’s "in danger list” at its next annual meeting a year from now, if improvements are not made.

The committee is in effect standing by the draft report issued in May that noted “concern” at the “limited progress” in halting threats to the reef.

The UN’s big concerns are the development of new ports, such as Abbot Point, which critics say will cause increased dredging and shipping waste that will hurt coral, turtles, dugongs and other wildlife along the reef; and Queensland’s plans to expand the coal and gas export terminals at Townsville.

The committee accuses Australia of making no clear commitments towards making sure these ports won’t further harm the reef.