Marine experts demand Australia stop reef mine, ports plans

In a new chapter of the mining vs. Great Barrier Reef saga, over 150 marine scientists from 33 institutions signed Wednesday a letter warning the Australian government of the mounting threats new coal ports and other industrial projects pose to the Great Barrier Reef.

The document, says AAP, calls on the Australian and Queensland governments not to construct new ports outside existing industrial port areas and develop a new strategy to better manage coastal development.

Some of those experts claim mining-related activities may have already caused irreparable damage to the area, situated off the coast of Queensland, which is the country’s most renowned natural wonder and the world’s largest coral reef system.

They blame the increased shipping of natural resources, port construction, as well as offshore gas and oil drilling for this.

The United Nations has stepped in and its educational, scientific and cultural unit (UNESCO) will meet later this month to discuss proposals to list the reef as a site “in danger.”

The body sent an inspection team over in March 2012 and published a report saying the group noted “a continuing decline in the quality of some parts” of the reef, expressing “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.”

In February this year, the conservative state government of Queensland lifted a ban on shale oil exploration and production along its coast, enabling companies to begin assessing the region’s potential, in the search for starting a shale boom equal to the one in the US.

Opponents have branded the measure  “environmental vandalism,” as together with the proposed construction of coal export facilities along the state’s coast, it will increase the level of shipping traffic by nearly double, increasing the risk of collisions and oil spills.

Construction of the facilities would also require dredging of the seabed adjacent to the reefs, which would create sediment contamination and deprive the corals of sunlight on which they partially subsist.

Coal is one of Australia’s key resource exports, and is sold primarily to China, which needs the solid fossil fuel to power its economic growth in belated industrialization.