WWF Says New Coal Ports Near Great Barrier Reef Not Necessary

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By Vittorio Hernandez | January 7, 2013 9:42 AM EST

World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Australia insisted over the weekend that Queensland does not need new coal ports in and near the Great Barrier Reef. WWF based its assessment on the state government's Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy Economic Analysis that said coal ports in the area are operating at only 52 per cent of their planned capacity.

"Existing infrastructure can meet this demand. We just need to use it more efficiently. Why waste billions of dollars building new ports when we don't use the one we have already? Why risk damaging an international icon like the Great Barrier Reef?" WWF spokesman Nick Heath said in a statement.

The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the world's largest living structure that spans over 2,000 kilometres of islands and submerged reefs. CNN called the reef, which can be seen from outer space, as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

However, Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said port infrastructure must be planned and built to meet the demands of resource projects into the far future. Otherwise, he warned that Australia's resource sector, on which the country's economy heavily depends, would be totally uncompetitive is companies would have to wait until demand grows before export infrastructure is provided.

UNESCO had previously warned Australia that the reef's listing as a World Heritage Site is in danger unless the country could convince the international body that it is managing risks, mainly from coastal development. The agency recommended no further port developments except the existing ones.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has also opposed Queensland's port expansion plans because of its impact on the feeding and breeding ground of the reef's unique species as new developments would result in more commercial vessels ploughing through the reef yearly.

To boost the argument of green groups for more protection, a team from the University of Queensland's Catlin Seaview Survey announced the discovery at 125 metres below the surface at Ribbon Reef and at the edge of the Australian continental shelf corals. Scientists thought corals could only be found up to depths of 70 metres.

"What's really cool is that these corals still have photosynthetic symibionts that supposedly still harvest the light. It's interesting to know how they can handle such low light conditions - it's a very deep dusk, you can barely make out much at the bottom," Cosmos Magazine quoted Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, chief scientist on the project.

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