Environmental groups have said Australia has to take swift action to protect the Great Barrier Reef amid threats from industrial projects.

Heralded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef is home to 400 types of coral, 240 species of birds and 1,500 species of fish.

It is worth AU$6bn (€4.7bn) annually to the local economy in tourism.

Australia was warned by UNESCO last June over development on the reef.

The United Nations has also said that the area could be listed as "in danger" if there is no evidence of progress by 1 February.

Coal is one of Australia's top export earners and the state of Queensland is the country's largest coal producer.

The reef faces growing threat from shipping driven by these project expansions.

"Australia's most important environmental asset is under serious threat from existing and proposed industrialisation along the Queensland coast," said Felicity Wishart, campaign director for the coalition composed of WWF Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

"The reef has an international reputation, it is loved globally," Ms Wishart said. "That's a really alarming international black mark that we could be tracking towards if we don't lift our game."

UNESCO, which gave the reef World Heritage status in 1991, has made a number of proposals to the national and Queensland state government on managing the reef, such as halting further port construction and limiting ship numbers.

A spokesman for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in Canberra said the government was assessing key issues facing the reef.

The environmental campaign hopes to place the reef on the political agenda this year when Australians are due for a federal election.