Australia chooses mining terminal over coral reef

Australia’s Queensland government has snubbed a United Nations report released over the weekend, which demands Australia act to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Last week, Premier Campbell Newman gave the green light to what it is said to become one of Australia’s biggest mines, the $6.4 billion Alpha Coal Project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. And he made it clear he would not stop development in and around the reef despite the UNESCO threat to classify it as a World Heritage site in danger, unless substantial changes were made to the way Australia manages the area, reports Australian Mining.

UNESCO, which sent an inspection team over last March, noted “a continuing decline in the quality of some parts” of the reef and expressed “extreme concern” about the increasing rate of port developments. “The unprecedented scale of development affecting or potentially affecting [the reef] poses serious concerns over its long-term conservation,” said the UNESCO’s report.

Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche, however, told Australian Mining the mining industry is conducting its own studies into the impacts of the planed Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen and decisions might be made once results are out:

“These independent studies are going to be rolled into a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all activities associated with Abbot Point's proposed expansion for public consultation and government review".

The evaluation, the first of its kind in Down Under, has brought together major companies, such as North Queensland Bulk Ports and the three main coal project proponents at Abbot Point – BHP Billiton, GVK Hancock and Adani. Jointly, they will examine the cumulative impacts from all of their proposed projects and submit their findings to be incorporated in a Cumulative Impact Assessment report issued the second half of this year for public consultation and government review.

UNESCO’s report main findings:

– "The rapid increase of coastal developments, including ports infrastructure is of significant concern."

– "The property further lacks an overall plan for the future sustainable development of the reef."

– "It is further essential to reduce development and other pressures as much as possible to enable an increase in the reef's resilience to adapt to climate change."

– "Should some of the most threatening developments proceed further towards consent, it is recommended that the world heritage committee considers the possibility of listing the property as being in danger."

– "There is a range of unaddressed concerns regarding the protection and management of the port and LNG facilities in Gladstone Harbour and on Curtis Island and the protection of its surrounding environment."

UNESCO’s report recommendations:

– Australia should "not permit any new port development or associated infrastructure outside of the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property."

– The Australian government complete a strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef before 2015.

– Australia sustains and increases efforts and resources to conserve the reef.

– An independent review of the management of Gladstone Harbour.