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Australia Permits Coal Port Dredge Dumping Near Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia in 2009. The reef, home of more than 1,500 species of fish, is threatened by multiple man-made threats according to a 2012 United Nations report. Photographer: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Australia approved plans by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp. to dump dredging waste from the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal near the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority today cleared the port to deposit as much as 3 million cubic meters (680 million dry gallons) of material, according to a statement on its website. Australia’s environment minister approved the project last month, in the face of opposition from environmentalists concerned about the impact on the reef, one of Australia’s major tourist attractions.

“As a deep water port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas,” Chairman Russell Reichelt said in the statement. “The approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or sea grass beds.”

The reef, home of more than 1,500 species of fish, is threatened by coastal development, ports and natural gas projects, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in 2012 report. Tourists spent the equivalent of about 2 million days in the 3,000-kilometer (1,875-mile) marine park in 2012, according to the park authority’s website.

Indian Billionaire

Adani Enterprises Ltd., India’s biggest thermal coal importer, and Indian billionaire’s G.V. Krishna Reddy’s GVK Group both plan to build export terminals at Abbot Point to ship coal to India to meet electricity demand. Australia is the world’s second-biggest exporter of coal.

Adani bought its Carmichael project in Queensland in 2010 and is seeking to start output in 2016 from the estimated $6.8 billion development, at a time of mining companies deferring projects due to falling prices.

GVK’s project, a venture that includes Asia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart, is in talks to raise a total of $10 billion to build a mine, port and railroad for its operation. GVK and Aurizon Holdings Ltd., Australia’s biggest haulage company, signed an initial pact to construct and transport coal from GVK’s thermal coal projects in Australia’s Galilee basin located about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the coast.

Dump Spoil

Greenpeace and other opponents of expansions of coal mines in Queensland argue dredging required to add port facilities will jeopardize important feeding grounds for the dugong, a vulnerable mammal species, and turtles.

“The dredge spoil could have been disposed safely on land, but it’s cheaper for the big mining companies to dump it on our reef,” Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters said today in an statement. The country’s government and main opposition Labor Party “need to stop letting the big mining companies treat this World Heritage Area as a rubbish tip,” she said.

Coal shipments from Australia, the world’s second-biggest exporter, will rise to 196 million tons this year from 184 million in 2013, according to the nation’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics. New mines developed during the past few years are adding to a supply glut as demand growth slows, the bureau said in a December report.

Glencore Xstrata Plc is among companies scheduled to produce more coal next year, adding tonnage equivalent to 3 percent of global trade, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisabeth Behrmann in Sydney at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at

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