An undated image of bleached branching coral at Heron Island along the Great Barrier Reef. An Australian minister denied a coal mine project near the Great Barrier Reef on Wednesday. File Photo by J. Roff/UPI
Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Australia's environment minister on Wednesday rejected a bid for a coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef, marking the first time ever that such a project there has been denied under its environmental laws.
Appearing to respond to overwhelming public pressure to block the project, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek cited federal law in denying the Central Queensland Coal Project near Rockhampton.
She said the project would present an unacceptable risk to the Great Barrier Reef, freshwater creeks and groundwater.
The coal mine would include two open-cut pits that would extract some 10 million tons of coal annually.
"I have decided not to approve the Central Queensland Coal Project because the risks to the Great Barrier Reef, freshwater creeks and groundwater are too great," Plibersek said in a video statement.
"Freshwater creeks run into the Great Barrier Reef and onto seagrass meadows that feed dugongs and provide breeding grounds for fish."
Environmentalists had said the Great Barrier Reef is already under stress because of global warming. The 1,429 miles-long reef experienced its sixth mass bleaching event in 2022, blamed on warming water.
"More than half of the living coral cover that we can see from the air is severely bleached completely white and can have signs of fluorescence in the colors of pink, yellow and blue," said Neal Cantin, a coral biologist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, according to CNN.
"The corals are producing these fluorescent pigments in an attempt to protect their tissue from heat and from the intense sun during these marine heatwaves."