* Coal projects caught in fight against port expansion
* Reef heritage listing may be at stake
* Storms, crown of thorns starfish damage reef most - report
(Adds conservation council, port operator comments)
MELBOURNE, Feb 27 Environmentalists launched an
appeal on Thursday to overturn a permit granted for an
Australian coal port to dump millions of cubic metres of sand
near the Great Barrier Reef, arguing it fails to protect the
World Heritage site.
An independent agency charged with protecting the reef
granted a permit in January for 3 million cubic metres of soil
dredged up at the port of Abbot Point to be dumped about 25 km
(15 miles) from the reef.
The approval by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
(GBRMPA) sparked outrage among green groups opposed to coal
expansions and fighting to protect the reef, as well as marine
tourism operators, who help generate $5 billion a year.
The North Queensland Conservation Council filed a challenge
to the permit at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Brisbane
The port is being expanded for $16 billion worth of coal
projects planned in the untapped Galilee Basin by two Indian
firms, Adani Enterprises and GVK, and
Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, projects actively opposed
The reef authority's decision to grant the permit came a day
before the Australian government sent a report about the reef to
UNESCO that said: "There has been a serious decline in hard
coral cover in the southern two-thirds of the Region."
The marine park authority defended the decision saying the
dump location was just seabed, with no coral or seagrass in the
area, and limited North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp, operator of
Abbot Point, to dumping only 1 million tonnes of soil a year.
"With GBRMPA and federal and state governments determining
only last year that the condition of the inshore Great Barrier
Reef World Heritage Area south of Cooktown is 'poor and
declining', this decision to allow the dumping of dredge spoil
is shocking and bewildering," North Queensland Conservation
Council coordinator Wendy Tubman said in a statement.
UNESCO awarded the reef its heritage listing and raised
concern in 2011 about port expansions further south at Gladstone
for three multibillion dollar gas projects. It is due to decide
in June whether to put the reef on the "in danger" list or
possibly drop it from the listing.
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp says the sand dumping will
be far from any coral or seagrass beds along the reef, which
covers an area larger than the United Kingdom, the Netherlands
and Switzerland combined.
It says dredging is not the main cause of harm to the reef,
pointing to a 2012 report by the Australian Institute of Marine
Science that found that 48 percent of the damage was caused by
tropical cyclones, 42 percent by the crown of thorns starfish,
and 10 percent from bleaching.
Water pollution from farm run-off has been blamed for
spawning population explosions of crown of thorns starfish.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard