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MELBOURNE, March 3 Australia approved coal port
expansion plans that involve dredging and dumping millions of
cubic metres of sand near the Great Barrier Reef despite earlier
warnings from an independent agency that the work could damage
The warnings emerged in documents obtained by environmental
activist group Greenpeace, which is fighting plans by Indian
companies Adani Enterprises and GVK and
Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart to dig coal mines in the
untapped Galilee Basin and turn Abbot Point on the northeast
coast into the world's largest coal port.
Australia's conservative government approved plans to dredge
3 million cubic metres of sand for the port expansion last year.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), an
independent agency charged with protecting the reef, in January
granted a permit to dump the sand about 25 kilometres (15 miles)
away from the protected zone.
That was after the park authority told the government in its
recommendation in 2013 that the dredging proposal by port
operator North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp would hurt the reef.
"The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million
cubic metres of sediment per year ... has the potential to cause
long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park," the reef authority said in the executive summary
of its 2013 recommendation on the port expansion.
The government and the agency defended their ultimate
approvals, however, saying they limited the dredging to 1
million cubic metres a year over three years with strict
"The Government approved the project subject to some of the
toughest conditions in Australian history, to deliver a net
benefit to the environment," Environment Minister Greg Hunt said
in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Greenpeace wants Hunt to revoke the approvals.
"These new documents raise very serious concerns about the
federal government's stewardship of the reef," said Greenpeace
Australia Queensland campaigner Louise Matthiesson.
The reef authority said most of the documents released to
Greenpeace under a Freedom of Information Act request were
preliminary working drafts, and the concerns were incorporated
into its recommendation to the government and the 47 conditions
imposed in the dumping permit.
Those conditions include barring disposal of the dredged
sand if prevailing waves, currents and wind would result in
sediment drifting towards sensitive corals and seagrass beds or
to a World War II plane wreck that is a popular tourist site.
"Without these robust conditions, GBRMPA is likely to have
said 'no' to the permit application," the reef authority said in
a statement on its web site. (www.gbrmpa.gov.au)
Environmentalists have launched an appeal seeking to
overturn the dumping permit.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Tom Hogue)