Australia Green Lights Dumping Near Great Barrier Reef

Authorities have signed off on plans to dump millions of tons of dredged mud and sand

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Patrick Hamilton / Greenpeace / Reuters

Mounds of coal along the coastline of Queensland at the port of Hay Point, located around 450 km (279 miles) southeast of the city of Townsville August 5, 2009.

Australia has approved plans to dump one million tons of dredged mud into the sea near the Great Barrier Reef in order to create the world’s largest coal port.

The reef, which is the largest natural feature on earth visible from space, is home to thousands of species of marine life. Conservationists argue that it’s now under threat from the coal port expansion, the Financial Times reports. The dumping was green-lighted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Several companies want to use the expansion of the Abbot Point port near Queensland to export hundreds of millions of tons of coal a year, estimated to be worth between $1.4-2.8 billion. Authorities have granted approval with strict environmental controls.

Selina Ward, a marine biologist at Queensland University, said that “dumping millions of tons of sediment near the reef could smother the corals and sea grasses while dredging risks releasing poisons on the seabed.” She and other 230 other scientists signed a petition opposing the plans this week, the Financial Times reports.

The United Nation’s cultural agency, UNESCO, warned last year it was considering placing the reef on its endangered list for 2014 because of the threats it faces from dredging for fossil fuel ports, increased shipping frequency and run off from agricultural developments.

[Financial Times]