Coal dust near Great Barrier Reef worries scientists, environmentalists

Coal dust near Great Barrier Reef worries scientists, environmentalists

This image of a baby turtle next to a lump of coal has made scientists and environmentalists quite nervous. (Provided by Mark Symons | WWF-Australia)

The recent discovery of coal dust near Australia's Great Barrier Reef has academics and environmentalists up in arms and has triggered an investigation on the nearby Hay Point port, which ships tens of millions of tonnes of coal a year to global markets.

The leak took place in early February, causing black coal dust (pulverized, powdered coal) to wash up along Australia's shores in proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ship-loading facilities at Hay Point coal port are now at the centre of an investigation by authorities in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland.

Things took a turn for the worse Thursday, when several media outlets, including Mashable, published the photo of a baby turtle next to a lump of coal on East Point Beach in Mackay, Queensland.

Though the country’s environment minister Steven Miles has said a leak of this kind could easily be contained, scientists and environmentalists argue that coal can kill coral and damage sea life, ABC reported.

This isn't the first time a coal dust leak hits the Australian coastline. According to the Brisbane Times, the country’s Department of Environmental and Heritage Protection has been looking into potential coal and coal dust spillages since last year.

Such probe coincided with an announcement made by scientists from the Australian Research Council's Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. The group found that, in the past two years, the Great Barrier Reef suffered its largest die-off ever recorded — with an average of 67% of corals in one area declared dead.

In the past year, the federal and Queensland state governments have approved a number of coal ports close to the Reef, including the expansion of Abbot Point coal terminal, which will serve the Adani's Carmichael coal mine, the country’s largest if completed.