CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Environmentalists are condemning Australia's plan to dump millions of tons of sludge inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park so it can export more coal.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved an application by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp. to dispose of dredge spoil at a deep-water location offshore of Abbot Point, subject to strict environmental conditions.
The goal of mining and exporting coal from one of the country's biggest deposits -- the Galilee basin -- will require the expansion of the port in north Queensland, within the boundaries of the famous marine park, authority officials said.
Conservationists, fisheries and scientists have been campaigning against the plan to dredge 5 million tons of soil and sediment -- required to expand the port -- and then dump the material back into the marine park.
The authority chairman acknowledged the debate and community concern, and said he shared the community's desire to ensure the reef remains a great natural wonder into the future.
"This approval is in line with the agency's view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports," Russel Reichelt said in statement from the authority.
Greenpeace called approval of a permit to dump soil on the reef a risk to the World Heritage listed site and predicted it would make it likely UNESCO would list it as "in danger."
"This go-ahead for dumping is one more body blow for the reef which further threatens marine life, its World Heritage status and Australia's tourism and fishing industries," Louise Matthiesson of Greenpeace said.