What will Tony Burke say to UNESCO about saving the Reef?

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Feature Story - 30 January, 2013
On 1 February, our government will respond to world leaders on its plans to stop surging coal exports in Queensland from destroying the Great Barrier Reef.

Abbot Point, surrounded by wetlands and coral reefs, is set to become the world's largest coal port should the proposal of coal terminal expansion go ahead.

UNESCO - the UN body responsible for protecting World Heritage sites - at its St Petersburg meeting in June 2012 requested that the Australian Government not permit any industrial developments that would impact our beautiful Reef.

Yet Environment Minister Tony Burke has since approved a huge new coal shipment terminal at Abbot Point, and is reviewing several other similar applications up and down the Queensland coast.

A huge growth in coal exports means a huge growth in industrial development to support it. This is very bad news for our Reef.

The additional coastal port and ship traffic have potential to create immediate damage. If planned coal export expansion goes ahead, the Reef could become a superhighway for some 10,000 ships every year. These ships traverse a narrow and risky path through some of the most delicate marine life on the planet -- basically playing Russian roulette with the Reef.

This plan could lay the groundwork for disasters even greater than when the coal ship Shen Neng ran aground in 2010.

When the coal is burnt in power stations, it’ll drive global warming. As leading climate scientist Professor Lesley Hughes said:

“The reef is under pressure from a range of threats – water quality, shipping, coastal development and unsustainable fishing – but it is climate change that poses the greatest threat to the reef’s long-term future … If high temperatures persist over a few weeks, the bleaching becomes permanent and the corals die.”

In fact, our latest report The Point of No Return, earmarked Australian coal exports as one of the biggest contributors to climate change, second  only to China.

It’s not just the Reef being put at risk from these developments. The jobs of tens of thousands of Australians it supports are also in danger. Communities up and down the Queensland coast thrive on showcasing this natural wonder to thousands of tourists every year. If it were lost from a shipping accident, the knock on effects for these local communities would be huge.

If you haven’t already, sign our 44,000 strong Save the Reef pledge and join the growing movement of Australians who care about the Reef.