About 100 people gathered outside the Queensland state government’s executive building on February 1 to voice concerns over the coal industry’s destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.
The rally was organised under Greenpeace's Save the Reef campaign. It was supported by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth and Beyond Zero Emissions.
This was part of actions to highlight the Liberal-National government's poor response to a warning from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that the natural icon was at threat of being listed as “in danger”.
Rally organiser and prominent Greenpeace activist Louise Matthiesson said the campaign was focused on opposing coal ports and dredging in and around the reef.
Matthiesson said the Great Barrier Reef has been free of oil and gas mining since 1975 and a World Heritage site since 1981, due in part to rigorous campaigning. She said she was disappointed that the ineffectiveness of these protective policies has sparked such a campaign years later.
These sentiments were taken to the state government in the form of a large cardboard fish petition alongside passionate chants of “Coal! Don’t ship it; Leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it”.
Leading Australian environmental groups say the state government has broken its promise to protect the future of the reef by ignoring UNESCO’s warnings against port expansions after their assessment of the reef in June last year.
“The state and federal governments have not responded seriously to UNESCO's call for more action to protect the reef,” said Brisbane Greenpeace coordinator Jarren Nylund.
“Already, one major new coal export terminal has been approved at Abbot Point near Bowen, threatening dugongs, snub fin dolphins, turtles and other marine life. The Queensland government has weakened a suite of environment laws designed to protect the reef coast and regulate development.”
Greenpeace believes that plans to open up to six new “super mines” across the reef would dramatically raise the number of ships passing through the reef each year and the destruction that comes with them.
Nylund said: “These facilities combined would increase the number of coal ships tearing through the reef from 1722 in 2011 to 10,000, if all of the proposed developments go ahead.
“The problem is that they're approving this infrastructure without even knowing what the impacts will be, and that the government is making decisions that are in the interest of the mining magnates, not in the interest of the Australian people.”
GetUp! has also warned that up to 46 million cubic meters of sea floor would be dredged from in and around the Great Barrier Reef to make way for coal seam gas export infrastructure — the biggest dredging project in Australian history.
These devastating plans are being overseen by the Queensland government. But the struggle to save the reef continues to grow.
Since the campaign began early last year, several actions have been carried out to raise awareness and gain the attention of Premier Campbell Newman's government. This has included activists sneaking inside an LNP luncheon to replace menus with a “not-so-delectable” list of endangered marine life.
Nylund said the next big step for the Save the Reef campaign is a plan to sail flagship vessel the Rainbow Warrior III along the Queensland coast while raising awareness in communities of the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef.