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Editorial: Australia prioritizes coal production over Great Barrier Reef

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 21:02

On Jan. 31, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved plans to dredge 3.3 million tons of seabed sediment along the Abbot Point port in northern Queensland, Australia and dump the excavated material into the ocean area surrounding the Great Barrier Reef. The dredging will allow for a 70 percent increase in ships able to reach the Abbot Point port, which is part of the Australian government’s plans to expand coal exports from its current 265 million tons a year to 868 million tons by 2030. This growth is fed by booming demand in India and China, the latter of which has recently reduced domestic coal production investment - as the emerging economic titans continue to undergo rapid industrial development, which proponents of the plan claim will produce $28 billion in coal development projects alone. Unfortunately, the dredging will inflict catastrophic damage upon what is left of the Great Barrier Reef, a system of over 3,000 tropical reefs and 900 coral islands, that comprise the largest living organism on Earth.

Two Indian companies, Adani Group and GVK, are the principal funders of the expansion project, though Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart’s company Hancock Coal will oversee the actual coal production at three of the six new port terminals due for completion in 2016. The GBRMPA board of directors countered a claim by Greenpeace contending that the sediment dumping would cause widespread destruction of the reef system by citing a series of 16 environmental studies that posit the ecological damage will be minimal. It is worth noting, however, that Tony Mooney and Jon Grayson – both members of the GBRMPA board – are under investigation for conflict of interests, as both men work for mining companies that would benefit from the expansion project.

Opponents of the Abbot Point expansion project point out that even though the sediment will be dumped in an area devoid of any reefs, the ocean current will undoubtedly carry the loose material over the reef, which will blot out much needed sunlight. Additionally, the noise pollution caused by a large influx of ships will contribute to a drastic increase in the flight of whale, dolphin, and dugong populations. For evidence, one need not look any further than the consequences of the liquefied gas terminal project on Curtis Island, in which sediment deposits plumed out of their containment area killing unknown thousands of local species and even incited a toxic algal bloom that further contributed to mass marine death. In addition to exterminating one of Earth’s seven natural wonders, the Abbot Point expansion project may also, coincidentally, deprive Queensland of the $4 billion in tourism the Great Barrier Reef generates annually.

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