Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on Friday approved the dumping of up to three million cubic metres (or one million tons) of dredge waste in park waters in a move blasted by environmentalists.
The decision follows the government giving the green light to a major coal port expansion for India’s Adani Group on the reef coast in December, under some of the strictest-ever environmental conditions.
It will see Adani dredge three million cubic metres of material from the seabed to allow freighters to dock at the port in Abbot Point, lifting the facility’s capacity by 70 percent to make it one of the world’s largest coal ports.
Conservationists warned it could hasten the demise of the World Heritage-listed reef, which is already considered to be in "poor" health, with dredging smothering corals and seagrasses and exposing them to poisons and elevated levels of nutrients.
The reef is already facing pressures from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.
The reef is facing a World Heritage downgrade from UNESCO this year due to concerns about rampant coastal development proposed in the region, particularly port, gas and coal operations. UNESCO are due to meet in June, when they are expected to discuss the issue.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) chairman Russell Reichelt said he recognised there was intense community concern and debate about the application by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dispose of dredge spoil in the park.
But he said allowing the project to proceed would help contain development to existing ports, and the reef itself and seagrass meadows would still be protected.