By Dr Selina Ward, coral reef scientist and Australian Marine Conservation Society board member
As scientists warn that we are on the precipice of climate disaster, the Queensland government is considering approving a new coal mine located only 10km from the Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian Academy of Science warns that, unless we drastically reduce carbon emissions, the world is on track for 3⁰C of warming this century. In a 3⁰C hotter world, the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs of the world are likely to be unrecognisable.
Let that sink in for a moment.
As a coral reef ecologist, the thought of a world without the colour and wonder of coral reefs is just devastating. The protection reefs provide to nations from wave action would be lost and alternate food sources would need to be found for millions of people.
So I cannot understand why the Queensland government is contemplating Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal mine, which would sit just 10km from our Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
If approved, the CQC mine would help to drive the temperature increase predicted in this report, creating around 400 million tonnes of carbon pollution across its projected 20 year life span.
On climate grounds alone this coal project should be rejected. But at just 10 km from the Reef coast, this coal mine could be uniquely dangerous to some of the Reef’s most important ecosystems.
The government-appointed Independent Expert Scientific Committee warned of “significant and irreversible damage” from mine-affected water to inshore Reef ecosystems including Queensland’s largest fish habitat at Broad Sound, north of Rockhampton.
The panel suggested that the mine would disturb soils prone to erosion and could increase sediment loads in the waterways that flow into the Reef. Sediment smothers coral and seagrasses, adversely affecting the marine life that depends on these areas for their survival, including dugongs and turtles.
The Queensland government recognises the vital importance of good water quality for the GBR, demonstrated by the recent rollout of Reef regulations to lower sediment run-off from agricultural lands. It doesn’t then make sense to permit Central Queensland Coal to build this mine which may increase sediment run-off.
Other high value environments near the site that could be adversely affected include Tooloombah Creek, Deep Creek, the Styx River estuary as well as two state-listed wetlands.
The Broad Sound region is also in the middle of two important areas for the southern Great Barrier Reef population of dugongs (Shoalwater Bay and Clairview) so could be an important part of a migratory route for these threatened species. Why risk damaging these populations?
This development is simply too risky for our precious Reef. The scientific consensus is that there is no way to effectively mitigate the damage it will cause, and yet it is being considered.
So tell your state MP that you don’t want this mine, send a letter to the Queensland government and make your voice heard. We need to speak now and loudly so that we bury this bad idea before it takes a hold of our politicians.
There’s still time to turn things around for our precious coral reefs. I have just witnessed the corals around Heron Island recover well following last year’s bleaching event. We may not be so lucky next time as every summer now we are teetering nervously at a precipice waiting to see how these beautiful corals and the marine life they support will fare as the water warms again.
Approving a coal mine anywhere – but especially one so close to the Reef coast – in these perilous circumstances is beyond reckless.
A version of this opinion piece was published in the Morning Bulletin on Thursday 1 April 2021.