“We will save the reef”: Great Barrier Reef at Risk from Fossil Fuel Extraction.


Activists from onboard the Rainbow Warrior aim to halt the activites of 500 bulk carriers travelling through the World Heritage Marine Park. 

Last week the Ecologist published a piece on the shocking decision to approve an enormous coal port on the Great Barrier Reef. Here Maxine Newlands reports on how environmental groups in Australia are responding to this threat.....
The World’s largest coral reef could become a hub for bulk carriers

Australia’s environmental groups are pooling together to take on the mining industry.  The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from plans to build nine new coal mines and terminals along the Queensland coast. Greenpeace Australia, alongside Queensland conservation groups are uniting in their campaign to ‘Save the Reef’.

Spearheaded by the new Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s first sailing ship, activists aim to stop an extra 500 bulk carriers travelling through the World Heritage Marine Park.

Mining expansion will see growth in ports at Hay Point, Abbott Point, Townsville, Gladstone, Keppel Bay, Rockhampton and Dudgeon Point Coal Terminals. 

UNESCO identifies the Great Barrier Reef as home to the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, the endangered green and flat back turtles, snubfin dolphins, and the breeding ground of the Humpback whale. 

Australia, custodian of the reef, is in danger of having the World Heritage site placed on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list. Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, David Ritter, is apprehensive about UNESCO’s plans; “the idea that the Australian government would be treated the same as the Taliban, who blew up the Bamiyan Buddha’s in Afghanistan... because we have so failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is a source of deep embarrassment to me as an Australian”. 

Ritter sees the problem firmly with the mining industries grip on Australian politics; “the Labor party and the Coalition are pretty much dancing together to the tune of the coal industry when it comes to supporting expansion of thermal coal in Queensland”.

North Queensland Conservation Council Co-ordinator, Wendy Tubman, says the coal industry has too much power over natural resources; “minerals and resources industries under Australian law can walk into a property and obtain an exploration list: And if they find resources, they have every right to take over the land...it’s Terra Nullius all over again...with coal miners and the industry”

The World’s largest coral reef could become a hub for bulk carriers

The biggest project, the Abbot Point expansion, will become one of the largest coal ports in the World. North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) plan to dredge three million tonnes of spoil over 454 acres for a third terminal, dumping the dredging spoil six miles from Holbourne Island.

Holbourne Island, 20 miles off the Queensland coast, sits within the Great Barrier Reef National Park. Part of the Whitsunday’s, Holbourne Island is home to the brown boobies bird (a large sea bird). 

Further north, Townsville Port Authority’s expansion plans threatens sea grass and hard coral environments. With nine new mines and ports expanding, the World’s largest coral reef will become a hub for bulk carriers feeding the Asian markets and Queensland economy.

Australian Environmental Minister, Tony Burke maintains the government have invested £25 million ($35 million Aud) in reef initiatives, and scaled back expansion plans at Abbott Point. Mining mogul, Gina Rinehart’s company Alpha coal have invested £7 billion pounds ($10 billion Aud) in coal expansion.  

Despite the vice like grip of the mining industry on government policy, Greenpeace’s David Ritter is determined; “I have an iron conviction in my guts we will win. This Great Barrier Reef will not be turned onto a coral graveyard. Australia will become a renewable superpower”. 

The UNESCO World Heritage committee will be held in June 2013.

Read last week's story here;


Maxine Newlands is a freelance journalist and academic researching environmental politics and the media. 


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