The Great Barrier Reef – our planet’s largest living structure and a hugely diverse ecosystem stretching thousands of miles – is about to get dumped on, literally. According to The Associated Press on Friday, upwards of three million cubic meters of dredge spoil will be dumped on the fragile reef that borders the Queensland coast.
The sand and clay dredge will be removed from the sea floor as part of a major port expansion of Abbot Point – a coal port in northern Queensland. The massive dredging operation will make room for ships entering and exiting the port.
Final approval for the dump came from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who enforced at least 47 "strict conditions." The proposal was also approved by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt last month. Despite the stringent oversight, environmental groups such as Greenpeace are decrying the decision, which they say endangers the famed ecosystem.
A statement released by Dr. Russell Reichelt, Authority Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said the proposal followed protocols that limit development of ports that are near the Barrier Reef.
“As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas,” Reichelt said. “It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds.”
Despite assurances, the plan has attracted widespread criticism. International conservation group World Wildlife spokesman Richard Leck said the approval from the marine park authority marked a "sad day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future."
Greenpeace also weighed in with their condemnation.
"This go-ahead for dumping is one more body blow for the Reef which further threatens marine life, its World Heritage status and Australia's tourism and fishing industries," Greenpeace Reef Campaigner Louise Matthiesson said on the group's website.