gbr overhead

Coal and Fisheries Pose Grave Threat to Great Barrier Reef

by Gabbie Baillargeon

 

Extending nearly 2,500 kilometers, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has always been presented as a pristine environment to blend ecotourism and wildlife freedom. People across the globe envision the Great Barrier Reef as a brilliant stretch of coral home to thousands of breathe-taking animals. Recently it has been publicized how coal companies are in negotiations to gain access to dredge on the reef. The In past years, the actions of major fisheries have gone unnoticed as they extract millions of fish ranging from sardines to tiger sharks. Coal companies are now further stressing the reef. The most controversial project is at Abbott Point, where they want to dredge that port to allow more boats to come through; in order to do this, they will dump thousands of tons of foreign sediment onto the reef.

coalEnvironmental groups have put the pressure on both the Australian government and the coal mining companies to make the eco-friendly decision. The bottom line is that what is at stake is not just one species, but thousands of lives at risk. The GBR has been deemed the largest organism on Earth, for the coral polyps create a huge colony composing the reef. In addition, Australia has the honor of housing one of the 7 great natural wonders of the world. So why is the government gambling with coal companies over their natural treasure?

Besides climate change, coal is the reef’s greatest enemy. The Australian government profits from the exportation of coal, especially in the state of Queensland, racking in $40 billion per year by exporting one million tons each day. Many coal ports are along the coast of Queensland, forcing the cargo ships to use the GBR as a shipping channel. In order to expand the ports, due to a growing market, the companies must dredge the area to make the port easier to access. The term dredging refers to the introduction of new sediment in an area to achieve a flatter underwater landscape.

Dredging can severely damage a reef because it introduces non-local sediment and increases water turbidity weakening the coral’s ability to function properly.

coal reefDue to already present environmental conditions, such as increased Carbon Dioxide levels and more frequent storms, the reef is already suffering from fragmentation and coral bleaching. Due to increased foreign sediment at dredging sites, researcher Joe Pollock found that there is twice as much coral disease at these sites. In addition, Professor David Booth states, “Around half the coral has been destroyed in the last few decades.” It is clear that dredging can produce no positive effects for the reef, instead it can only diminish what beauty the reef still possess. The Australian government rests on a slippery slope as they must choose to either stand with the coal companies or against them. Over the decades the iconic Great Barrier Reef has turned white and bleak as Human’s have tarnished its once impeccable beauty. How far will the government go to either protect or jeopardize one of its most treasured landmarks?

 

Gabbie Baillargeon

 

Gabbie is a current high school student who has always been a nature and travel enthusiast.  She has a passion for marine biology and conservation, and plans on pursuing a marine biology degree.