A plan to dump tons of dredged mud near the fragile Great Barrier Reef to create the world's largest coal port has been approved by Australian officials despite concerns from environmentalists and scientists.
Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart won the permit for the country's regulators to expand the Abbot Point port for two Indian firms.
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"This is a significant milestone in developing our Galilee Basin coal projects, which represent the creation of over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs and over $40 billion in taxes and royalties," Darren Yeates, chief executive of GVK-Hancock, told Reuters
GVK-Hancock is a joint venture between GVK's conglomerate in India and Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.
Opponents of the port's expansion charged that the dumping could damage delicate corals and sea grasses. They also worry that the new port could double shipping traffic through the World Heritage marine park.
"It's a really disappointing decision," Selina Ward, a University of Queensland marine biologist, told Reuters.
Ward was one of some 240 scientists who asked the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to reject the project.
"What we need to do is to stop putting pressure on the reef, certainly not to be adding further stress to it by dumping three million tons of sediment on it," she said.
Australia's environment minister Greg Hunt told The Associated Press and officials were going to keep a close eye on the project
with "some of the strictest conditions in Australian history." Hunt said the strong conditions, which include water quality measures and safeguards for the reef's plants and animals, protect the reef from harm.
China's need for Australian coal shielded the country during the worldwide financial crisis, wrote the AP. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his conservative government have said they want to keep the country's coal industry strong despite China's slowing interest.
Despite a 2012 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) about the fraying coral reef, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said economic concerns will come first, wrote the Associated Press.
"We are in the coal business," Newman said at the time of the report. "If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that."
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