Coral-list: Coal of Thorns Greatest Threat to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Steve Palumbi and Iain McCalman has just released a conversation about the future of Australian and US reefs at blog site The Conversation: http://goo.gl/V6S9Uz

We especially raise alarm about coal mining in Australia and its effects. Selling cheap coal to China so their air gets worse and the GBR is damaged? Who would start this lose:lose scenario? The following is edited from our conversation:

Iain McCalman: Coal lies is the biggest current threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Our government likes selling cheap coal to China and India.
They are expanding existing coal ports on the Reef, a decision fraught with implications for the health of the Reef.
The new coal ports all entail extensive dredging where it would choke corals and sea grasses.

Short-sighted, the policy sacrifices one of the wonders of the world and a substantial economic asset for Australian tourism; and this at a time when even China is trying to wean itself from coal.

The Great Barrier Reef might be an icon for us in Australia, but we seem to have governments that are proud to be icon bashers.

Steve Palumbi: Iain McCalman’s book shows Captain Cook delicately threading his small ship up coral-filled canals. Now blast a modern coal ship through there,
and what would you expect to happen?

One of the last huge threats to the whole Great Barrier Reef was the crown of thorns starfish.
This voracious predator wasted reefs all along Australia.
Now, the dangers of mining and ports makes this new threat the Coal of Thorns.

The Coal of Thorns is an even bigger threat – because it is something the reef has never seen
and it is on a huge industrial scale. What happens after you hurt the reef, export the coal, and then China turns to their
vast supplies of natural gas? Dead reef and a dead exporting business.

When the coral-eating Crown of Thorns began in the 1960s, people tried everything to stop it.
Folks picked them up by the thousands and burned them.  They would have loved to have the problem solved by simply passing a law.

This threat from coal is a problem created specifically by people. And it could be solved by people in a way that was never available
for the starfish scourge – a simple sign of a pen could do away with this major threat.

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Stephen R. Palumbi
Harold A Miller Director, Hopkins Marine Station
Jane and Marshall Steel Professor of Biology
Stanford University

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