Anti-fossil fuel protests greet UNESCO visit to Great Barrier Reef

By RTCC Staff

Greenpeace activists get their message across in Gladstone Harbour. (©Greenpeace Australia Pacific)

Protests have greeted a UNESCO team scrutinising Australia’s stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef.

The inspection follows the approval of several fossil-fuel processing and transport facilities within the boundaries of the marine park.

Greenpeace activists painted “reef in danger” on the side of a coal transport ship in Gladstone harbour, during a UNESCO site visit.

“We need a constant reminder that the reef is in so much danger from the massive, out of control coal boom,” Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Julien Vincent told AAP.

A Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) processing plant on Curtis Island was approved last year and several coal ports are also planned for the area.

UNESCO has already raised concerns with the developments and is now undertaking a week-long assessment of the region.

Environmentalists are concerned that the increase in shipping through the Great Barrier Reef, will raise the risk of a significant spill.

The area contains rich biodiversity including 1500 fish species, 4000 mollusc species and 400 different types of coral.

In April 2010, a Chinese ship carrying more than 65,000 tons of coal ran aground. A 1.5 mile tract of reef was scarred and 950 cubic metres of oil were spilled.

The incident led to increased monitoring of ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is one of the jewels in the World Heritage crown,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general shortly after the accident. “It is also an extremely vulnerable ecological system that requires careful protection. I welcome the proposed new measures.”

Concerns over the construction of the new facilities have also been raised by local seafood industry, which claims that dredging for the new harbour projects is causing disease among fish stocks.

Australia is a major coal exporter with China among its major customers.

The Government recently passed a carbon price and new mining taxes that will target energy producers, heaving industry and resource extractors.

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