By Oliver Milman / The Guardian
A UN environmental team has arrived in Australia for a crunch 10-day assessment of the Great Barrier Reef, warning that the coral ecosystem is at a “crossroads” due to the soaring activity of the mining industry in the World Heritage Area.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) visit comes amid fears that the reef’s world heritage listing, which it has held since 1981, could be placed in jeopardy after rapid escalation in coal exports and gas exploration.
“The Great Barrier Reef is definitely at a crossroad and decisions that will be taken over the next one, two, three years might potentially be crucial for the long-term conservation [of the reef],” said Fanny Douvere, from Unesco’s World Heritage marine programme.
Australia’s coal boom is set to open up the previously undeveloped Galilee Basin in central Queensland, greatly increasing the number of developments along the state’s coast, where the 1,800-mile reef stretches.
The proposed infrastructure includes Abbott Point, which would become the largest coal export port in the world.
At full capacity, the expansion would see more than 10,000 coal-laden ships a year cross the Great Barrier Reef by the end of the decade – a sizeable increase on the 1,722 vessels that entered the World Heritage Area in 2011.
Environmentalists are concerned that ships navigating reef passageways – many of which are narrower than the English Channel – will run aground, as a Chinese vessel did in 2010, tearing a two-mile gash into the coral and spilling several tonnes of oil.
There are also warnings that the reef’s six species of turtle, including the endangered loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles, and the snubfin dolphin, Australia’s only endemic dolphin, would be affected by any mass industrialisation of the Queensland coast.
Read more from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/06/great-barrier-reef-mining-boom