Coral outcrop on Flynn Reef


The Great Barrier Reef, composed of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 submerged islands, stretches over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) and covers an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi), is one of the oldest, most beautiful, and incredibly diverse natural wonders on the planet. According to the Smithsonian As much as 1/4 of ocean species depend on the reefs for life.

A study published by the Smithsonian Institute in 2012 (improperly cited at the Washington Post, but quoting Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institute) found that the reef is already highly stressed with apparently a 50% die-off since 1985: half of the coral has died in the last 20 years. Thus this new coal mine development in Australia’s Queensland is adding a pound onto a camel that is prepared to buckle under the next straw (which is, interesting, not a bad way to illustrate ecological tipping points).

The Carmichael coal mine, being built by India’s Adani Group, will cover 200 sq km (77 sq mi) and excrete 120,000,000,000 pounds of coal (60,000,000  tons) a year, which is enough  provide enough electricity to  100 million people. Its position 400 km from the reef in Queensland’s Galilee Basin will require brand new infrastructure and shipping lanes: bringing a major coal mining operation directly through the barrier reef.

The coal will have to be transported to Hay and Abbot Point (on the Queensland coast) directly next to the southern section of the reef. Both ports will require dredging, destroying existing ecosystems and making the water less clear, to handle the increased shipping and bigger ships. After the coal is loaded,  as the Guardian’s Tim Flannery states in his recent article on the matter, it “must be shipped safely through the coral labyrinth that is the Great Barrier Reef, and on to India, where it will be burned in great coal-fired power plants.”

Even the company magically manages to avoid further destroying the reefs, the use of the coal will contribute to ocean acidification (which is one of the primary stressors on the reef), and in a larger sense to a warming of the region(which is another major stressor on the reef). This project is ecologically irresponsible on several different levels, and public pressure must exist within and outside of Australia to prevent this project from going through. The window is short to prevent arguably the world’s greatest natural wonder is ticking down minute by minute since the project’s approval.