One ship from SOF's flotilla on July 20
After the USA company Queensland Energy Resources (QER) announced its proposal to build a shale oil mine in Whitsunday, Australia, Save Our Foreshore (SOF) - a local community group aiming to protect foreshore land in the area - launched a campaign against this destructive initiative.

QER is an integrated resources and energy company owned by the Manhattan-based investors, Ziff brothers, which also owns most of Queensland's known oil shale resources.,

Created in 2004, SOF says that informing people is crucial in this kind of fight, and to this end it organised a Boat Rally and a public information day on Airlie Beach, on Sunday 20 July.

It is common knowledge that fossil fuels are a short-term, dirty solution to a large problem, and squeezing oil from stone (shale is basically oily rock) is an incredibly polluting and energy-intensive operation. That this operation should be contemplated in one of Australia’s most pristine marine environments is perplexing.

The first oil shale project in Australia was a catastrophe. People living 20km away from the site had been driven from their homes and became sick because of the operation. But these immediate problems only shadow the long-term risk to the famous Great Barrier Reef, which could have its biodiversity put at risk.

Dr Veron
Charlie Veron Dr J.E.N. ('Charlie') Veron is chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He is best known for his work on the taxonomy of corals which is now used throughout the Indo-Pacific. His latest book, Corals in Space and Time, which is a combination of coral taxonomy, biogeography, palaeontology and general biology that proposes a high original concept of evolution in coral and other marine invertebrates. © Greenpeace / Michael Amendolia
The Great Barrier Reef is already at risk from climate change, having a polluting shale oil plant nearby could be more than it can take. Dr Veron, a well-known coral scientist, says that by 2050 CO2 will change the chemistry of oceans and impact world marine life. As for the coral of the Great Barrier Reef, CO2 could see it replaced by bacterial slime, and once its gone, it will be gone forever. “We must never let this happen,” says Dr Veron.

Along with the potential hit to the marine environment, local Whitsunday communities are also worried about the effect the operation could have on tourism. The region benefits enormously from a hugely successful and sustainable tourism industry. Between the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands, tourists can enjoy a luxuriant and paradisiacal environment. “Why [would] any government dump around 5000 tourism jobs for a few hundred short term mining jobs?” asks SOF.

Shale divers
Renowned coral scientist Dr John ‘Charlie’ Veron issued a dire warning about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef today when he joined Greenpeace divers in an underwater protest. Dr Veron and members of the Esperanza crew this morning dived the Great Barrier Reef with three banners reading: ‘KEEP THE REEF GREAT’, ‘NO FUTURE IN SHALE OIL’ AND ‘COAL IS KILLING THE REEF’. © Greenpeace/Dean Miller 2008
This is why Sunday was an important day. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza went to Airlie Beach to support this campaign. It has been welcomed by 90 boats of all size. This on-the-water Rally sent a clear message: this highly polluting project is simply incompatible with everything Whitsunday stands for.

Save Our Foreshore was created to fight against an inappropriate development in Airlie Beach in 2004. In early 2008 that campaign was won against all odds and during this time SOF has established itself with the public and with local and state authorities. Let’s hope SOF will reach their goal for this on too!