MELBOURNE — Is the Australian mining industry destroying one the world’s most treasured ecosystems? When it comes to the future of the Great Barrier Reef, it boils down to economic growth versus environmental impact.
Conservation experts from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) arrived in Australia today to assess the impact of recent port expansion along the Great Barrier Reef in central and northern Queensland.
The UNESCO investigation follows a report, prepared by John Tanzer, ex-CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), which claimed that a coal and gas boom are threatening the Reef’s heritage title.
The Australian Government confirmed that currently the ports are operating at just over 150 million tonnes annually, and have estimated that by the end of the decade, their capacity will be close to a billion [Source: ABC’s 7.30 Report].
A report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suggests that Western Australia and Queensland are becoming increasingly reliant on the mining industry for business investment and economic activity.
According to a Brisbane Times source, exports from liquid natural gas in the Gladstone port alone are valued at (AUS)$70 billion.
The UNESCO review comes after a series of incidents threatening the health of the Reef. Last April, a Chinese ship leaked oil east of Great Keppel Island, and only late last year, mining companies came under attack for dredging.
The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has committed to ensuring the reef is protected, but determining an appropriate course of action will be a major challenge.
With input from UNESCO, the Australian and Queensland governments will work together to undertake a strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef and the adjacent coastal zone.
Although it is too early to say, it is likely that the UNESCO environmental investigation will call for tighter environmental controls on port activity.
Meanwhile, concerned citizens are taking action by signing a petition calling for UNESCO and the Australian Government to save one of the natural wonders of the world.