Australia's environment minister has put the nail in the coffin for the Great Barrier Reef, environmentalists charged, after the lawmaker greenlighted plans to build one of the world's largest coal ports Tuesday.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the dredging of 3 million cubic meters from the seabed to be dumped in the reef's waters to allow for the construction of three coal port terminals, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
"One of the three terminals was proposed by the Indian resource giant Adani, the second by a joint venture between the Indian company GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal, and the third site was to be developed by BHP Billiton. But BHP recently pulled out of its involvement in the project," The Guardian reports.
Hunt also approved plans for a new liquified natural gas plant on nearby Curtis Island—which includes 1.4 million cubic meters of dredging at Port Curtis and the mouth of the Calliope River, the Sydney Morning Herald notes—as well as a pipeline to that plant.
"The Great Barrier Reef is dying and (Prime Minister) Tony Abbott is hastening its death," Greens party opposition leader Christine Milne told reporters.
"(He) has made it clear that industrializing the reef, giving approvals to coal mines and gas facilities for his big business mates, is a much greater priority for him than protecting the reef and the 63,000 jobs that depend on it," she added.
Environmental groups have long opposed the plan on the grounds that increased shipping and dumping dredged seabed will irreparably damage the world heritage-listed site, in addition to the fact that encouraging the use of the dirtiest fossil fuel will only hasten our global warming crisis.
"If these plans succeed, and Abbot Point becomes the world's biggest coal port, Australia will be speeding up the climate crisis that threatens our children's future," said Greenpeace's Queensland campaigner Louise Matthiesson.
“The approvals today are a massive assault on the environment and place the future of the reef in jeopardy,” she added. “Minister Hunt has ignored the evidence and thumbed his nose at the serious concerns of scientists, tourism operators, fishers and Unesco about the impacts of these industrial developments and activities.”
During his announcement, Hunt boasted that the project would meet the "highest environmental standards" with 148 "strict environmental conditions," including "offsets" to be paid by developers to boost the health of the reef as well as a Reef Trust to improve water quality.
"It is important to note that each of these sites is already heavily industrialized and that the processes were highly advanced at the change of government," Hunt said.
“Scientists are telling us pollution is killing the Reef, that it needs extra care, but this decision treats the Reef like a dump," said Richard Leck, Climate Change Strategy Leader for WWF Australia.
“The World Heritage Committee could list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘World Heritage in Danger’ if we don’t put the brakes on industrial development,” he added.