Australia has approved a plan to dump millions of tons of sediment near the Great Barrier Reef as part of a major coal port expansion — a decision that environmentalists say will endanger one of the world's most fragile ecosystems.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority rubber-stamped the federal government's approval of the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port in northern Queensland, which requires a massive dredging operation to expanded access.
Almost 3 million cubic meters of dredged mud will be dumped within the marine park under the plan.
Greg Hunt, the environment minister, has vowed that "some of the strictest conditions in Australian history" would be in place to protect the reef, including water quality measures and safeguards for the reef's plants and animals.
The government added that no mud would be dumped directly on coral. However, conservationists say the already fragile reef will still be gravely threatened by the dredging.
The sediment endangers coral and sea grass, they say, and increased shipping traffic heightens the risk of accidents, such as oil spills and collisions with delicate coral beds.