Some relief for the reef

Feature Story - 12 March, 2012
It was a huge week. And it was capped off by a crucial announcement on Sunday: Approval to build the world’s biggest coal port in the Great Barrier Reef has been delayed.

Greenpeace activists and members of the local community lay out an 80x10 metre banner reading "Reef 'In Danger'" as the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) mission take a final flight over the controversial site of the proposed coal port at Abbot Point.

Less than two weeks ago we launched the beginning of a vital new campaign – to protect the Great Barrier Reef and our climate from the reckless expansion of the coal export industry.

This will be the biggest environmental campaign Australia has ever seen and it has got off to a cracking start. From front page stories and commentary from the nation’s power-holders, to a huge public outcry – the response has been staggering. And it has been the result of a few key elements:

A revealing report
When we released our report ‘Boom Goes The Reef’ on 1 March, it was the first time the cumulative impact of all proposed developments on the reef had been collated. It exposes the damning evidence of what is in store for our reef.

UNESCO’s visit
The guardians of World Heritage – UNESCO – arrived in Australia last Monday to investigate development projects in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. UNESCO was initially concerned with the approval of new gas processing plants on Curtis Island off Gladstone. When we briefed the UNESCO delegation, we made sure they understood that the problem runs far greater than this. With coal export infrastructure planned to be built along nearly the entire length of the World Heritage Area, we got the message out to UNESCO and the world that the reef is in danger.

A leaked strategy
In an attempt to divert attention away from the embarrassing UNESCO visit, a draft funding and strategy proposal  developed by our senior climate campaigner was leaked to the media. What followed was a massive backlash from the mining industry and politicians on a scale we’ve never before witnessed. There was an anxious response from every major mining company; the Prime Minister, Treasurer, Environment, Trade and Energy Ministers; and multiple front page stories in the press.

Such a backlash indicates that we’ve hit a nerve. The Australian Financial Review reported: “As another coal veteran observed, the concert outlined in this pitch represents a long-awaited industry nightmare... "this will be greeted with serious fear and loathing."”

People in action
Just as quickly as the mining industry and friends whipped up a frenzy claiming Greenpeace were ‘economic vandals’ and the causers of ‘mass starvation’, huge numbers rallied behind our call for action. To date, over 12 000 people have signed our petition. This public support, together with all the amazing work done by other environmental and community groups, farmers and individuals across Australia, has not gone unnoticed. Together we are building the foundations of a  powerful and inspiring movement.

What next?
There are plans to build the world’s biggest coal port – at Abbot Point – in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. A delay in its approval from March to December at the latest, has been a welcome reprieve. We send a huge thank you to everyone who has so far taken action.

But this is just the beginning. The coal industry will now be bunkering down to determine how they can crush this critical campaign. The stakes are high. They will throw everything they have to ensure their plans and profits are not disrupted. We must throw everything we have to ensure our precious reef and our climate are protected for generations to come.

What can you do?

1.    Sign the petition – Then please share it far and wide.

2.    Make a donation – To protect the reef from the reckless expansion of the coal industry, we will need all the help we can get.

3.    In Queensland? – Contact Bligh and Newman. The pending state election is a key opportunity for political leaders to demonstrate they are serious about protecting the reef.