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Great Barrier Reef at risk for coal port expansion?
by Staff Writers
Canberra, Australia (UPI) Feb 3, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

A controversial dredging plan has been approved in Australia to make way for a major coal port expansion.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt had already approved the plan in December with some environmental conditions but the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had the final approval over whether the dredge spoil could be dumped in the marine park that protects the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The authority, in announcing its decision Friday, acknowledged in a news release the "amount of debate and community concern" over the project, which would allow as much as 3 million cubic meters of sediment from dredging for the expansion of coal export terminals at Abbot Point to be dumped.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will damage the fragile ecosystem of the world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, and there are concerns the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, may place the reef on its list of world heritage sites in danger.

The authority said its decision was made after "rigorous assessment."

Its approval comes with 47 environmental conditions, including measures to minimize the impact on biodiversity, particularly coral, as well as a long-term water quality monitoring plan and offset measures for commercial fisherman if the dumping caused other problems.

"As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas," Russell Reichelt, authority chairman, said in the release.

"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds," Reichelt said.

The Queensland Resources Council applauded the approval, saying in a statement that the dredging project "goes hand in hand with the development of new coal reserves in the Galilee Basin" where proposed projects have a forecast investment of $28.4 billion and would provide more than 15,000 jobs during construction.

But environmentalists denounced the Authority's decision.

"This go-ahead for dumping is one more body blow for the Reef which further threatens marine life, its World Heritage status and Australia's tourism and fishing industries," Louise Matthiesson of the Greenpeace Reef Campaign said in a statement.

"Green lighting the reef's destruction makes a mockery of the Authority's charter which obliges it to protect the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the World Heritage Area," Matthiesson said.


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