Great Barrier Reef 'at risk' from coal development plan

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Great Barrier Reef 'at risk' from coal development plan

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Environmentalists in Australia have reacted angrily to a decision to allow dredged sediment to be dumped near the Great Barrier Reef.

Conservationists say the operation could damage the site’s fragile ecosystem, fearing that coral and other marine life could be smothered and poisoned.

It’s part of a controversial project to create the world’s biggest coal port by expanding the existing facility at Abbot Point, which lies south of Townsville in Queensland.

The environmental watchdog argues its decision to approve the dredging and dumping operation is justified.

“The dredged material in Abbot Point is 70 percent sand, 30 percent fine silts and clays and it has no toxic material in it,” said Russell Reichelt of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The plan’s supporters say it will pave the way for lucrative coal reserves to be exported, boosting the economy. But some locals aren’t sure.

“We just thought if they dumped the spoil on land it would have a better economic benefit to the town, but now they’ve given the approval to dump at sea, well it’s unknown what’s going to happen,” said fisherman Terry Must.

The environmental watchdog set dozens of conditions and says no new ports will be built along the reef’s coastline.

But critics accuse it of ignoring the marine park’s charter, and caving in under pressure from the government, multinational developers and the mining industry.

UNESCO has warned that concerns over water quality may lead to the Barrier Reef being placed on its list of world heritage sites in danger.