Environmentalists and concerned citizens are up in arms over a proposal to unload coal at the Great Barrier Reef.
According to environmental experts, such actions will put the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef in danger and cause great damage to the ecosystem. However, Mitchell Ports has already applied for an expansion of their port, although it is yet to be approved.
Dangerous to the Marine Life of the Great Barrier Reef
Mitchell Ports has issued the application to construct a transshipping and barging terminal at Hay Point, which is just to the south of Mackay in Queensland. According to a company spokesperson, they want to move coal between the vessels offshore in the Reef Marine Park. This procedure has never been tried before, and environmentalists are very concerned about the implications.
According to environment experts, the potential for disaster would be high, and if ships collide or get damaged, coals could end up in the Reef, causing irreparable damage. Aside from spilling coal in World Heritage waters, the ships’ activities will disturb the turtles, fishes and the entire ecosystem. The effects could be far reaching, and experts say that due to the complex nature of the ecosystem, damage would be very difficult to overcome or repair.
The Planned Shipping Terminal
In spite of the potential danger to the Great Barrier Reef, Hay Port Exports, the subsidiary of Mitchell Ports, intends to continue with their plans and have filed the application. If the plan pushes thorough, the company will have a terminal in Mackay capable of handling 15 million tons of coal yearly.
Rather than dock at a port on land, their vessels will anchor offshore over a sand bed while cranes move the coal from the vessel to another ship. But the Hay Port Exports did say that the Bowen Basin Terminal could affect the migratory habits of indo pacific humpback dolphins and Irrawaddy among other species. This fact was included in its application, which states that some endangered species will get affected.
Not surprisingly, this plan has been criticized, and the Australian Marine Conservation Society has voiced its concern about the danger to the Great Barrier Reef. As campaigner Felicity Wishart said in an interview, the ships can easily “crash into one another” and apart from the coal, noise and pollution will affect the creatures there. The society has also stated that the Great Barrier Reef is not the place for “dumping, dredging or moving coal”.
However, Mitchell Ports is arguing that the effects will be minimal. Furthermore, its executive director, Ben King, says that while the project presents “some risk”, the company will use state of the art European technology to ensure safety. According to King, if the project is approved they will take all precautions so no accidents occur.
Despite the assurances, environmentalists in Mackay remain very much against the proposal, arguing that no amount of safety precautions can be implemented to ensure accidents do not happen. As one member of the Australian Marine Conservation Society put it, the best way to ensure that nothing happens is to keep ships and coal off the Great Barrier Reef.