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Abbot Point dredging decision multiplies threats to Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Australian authorities have approved a project to dump dredged sediment in the Great Barrier Reef marine park. Creative Commons: 2009

Australian authorities have approved a project to dump dredged sediment in the Great Barrier Reef marine park as part of a project to create one of the world’s biggest coal ports.

It follows a move by Environment Minister Greg Hunt to approve the dredging for the Abbot Point coal export terminal expansion in the final hours of government last year.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has also now given its stamp of approval for the controversial development, ignoring loud protests from tourism operators, environmentalists and scores of scientists.

The decision to allow three million cubic tonnes of dredge spoils to be dumped inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine park multiplies the threats to the World Heritage-listed icon.

The dredge itself poses a direct threat to the health of the reef and the $6.4 billion tourism industry, but the dredging will also unlock far more coal export capacity, sending vast amounts of Australian coal off to be burned overseas, driving dangerous climate change and its impact on the reef.

Greenpeace Reef Campaigner Louise Matthiesson said:

It’s laughable for the Australian Government to claim they’re doing everything they can to protect the reef, when they have approved three mega-coal mines in the Galilee Basin, two rail-lines to transport the coal to the coast, three new coal and gas terminals and the dredging and dumping of three million cubic metres of seabed inside the World Heritage Area, all since the World Heritage Committee first expressed concern about the pace of development along the Reef coast.

Both the Government and the Marine Park Authority appear determined to ignore the voices of scientists, tourism operators, and even serious allegations of conflicts of interest within the park authority’s board in order for mining companies to save money.

In October 2013, Environment Minister Greg Hunt ordered an “immediate” inquiry into the Marine Park Authority board when it was revealed that two members had conflict of interest issues.

There has been no update on the inquiry since Hunt’s October announcement.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has warned the Great Barrier Reef may be put on its “in danger” listing due to the growing threats to its welfare.

The Government insists it is making substantial progress to protect the park, but this claim has immediately been challenged by a report from the World Wildlife Fund and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

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