According to scientist Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, if Queensland’s Galilee coal basin is opened it could mean a death sentence to the Great Barrier Reef.
Development of the world’s largest coal mines in the basin will lead to irreversible damage of the reef.
“What the science says is that we have a choice: we can either develop the Galilee Basin or we can manage the reef so that it’s still there in 50 years,” Prof Hughes said. “I don’t see how we can do both.”
Federal and state governments’ claims that the development of Galilee will have no effect whatsoever on the reef are false.
“The reef is in declining condition already. It’s barely able to cope at the moment with run-off and climate change,” he said.
“So if the Galilee basin is developed, it’ll be the largest coal mines in the world producing huge amounts of CO2 that will add to climate change.”
UNESCO’s world heritage committee is considering whether to include the reef in its June list as endangered.
Prof Hughes emphasized that mining activities specifically port expansions, dredging and possible ship groundings would further damage Galilee.
He, together with a team of international researchers, has been closely monitoring the reef and two other listed world heritage sites.
Published in the journal Science, their study states that dredging and runoff threats necessitates to be trimmed down to assist the reef survive with ocean acidification and coral bleaching.
Construction of the Carmichael Coal and Rail Project in the Galilee Basin, approved last year federal government, banned this week, the dumping of dredge spoil in the marine park.
However, dredging at Abbot Point, south of Townsville, and Port expansion linked to the Galilee development, is likely given the go signal.
Nevertheless, water quality of dredging activities was monitored closely, said Queensland’s Environment Minister Dr. Steven Miles.
“The Queensland government is implementing a comprehensive set of policies to provide greater protection for the Great Barrier Reef, and that includes from the impact of port dredging,” he said.
Spokeswoman Felicity Wishart of the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s said the government is not doing enough for the protection of the reef.
“It’s time for our governments to come to their senses and put the reef first,” she said.