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Coal dust kills coral, slows seagrass and fish growth: AMCS study

A new study undertaken by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) found that coal dust released by the industrial expansion down Australia’s Reef coastline, including Abbot Point, threatens marine flora and fauna prompting the authors to urge a cap on coal port expansion.

Coal dust released into the seawater kills the corals and hinders the generation of the seagrass and fish and further provide evidence that an increased industrial expansion will lead to a further degeneration of the inshore reefs and their wildlife.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign director Imogen Zethoven said: “The Federal Government has fast-tracked the development of coal ports along the Reef coast, including Abbot Point, but new evidence suggests there has not been enough caution over the threats from coal dust.

“Coal dust in sediment along the Reef coastline near ports is already very high. A further increase in coal dust from port expansions would be a disaster for a Reef already under pressure from coral bleaching and global warming, and harmful to the tourism industry.”

Last year, the Australian Environment Ministry gave approval for the expansion of the Port of Abbot Point in north Queensland to enable transportation of coal from the nearby Carmichael mine.

Another study undertaken by the James Cook University has replicated the scenario where a coal plume from Abbot Point will reach the Whitsundays and the reefs offshore of Mackay within three months, threatening the $0.7bn Whitsundays tourism industry.

Scientists of James Cook University have undertaken research whereby they have subjected marine specimens to fine coal particles in carefully controlled experiments within the National Sea Simulator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science to assess their reaction.

Results revealed that corals exposed to the most amount of coal dust perished within two weeks while other exposed to lesser concentration of coal died after four weeks.

Exposure to coal dust killed some of the fish and seagrass specimens and for some had stunted their growth.

“Coal and coral are not compatible. Australia should shift to 100% renewable power as soon as possible and by 2035 at the latest,’ says Zethoven.

“The Reef is in a fragile state, in the northern section up to 95% of coral reefs have been affected by bleaching, and it simply cannot stand more pressure from the impacts of industrialisation and global warming if it is to survive and recover,” she said.

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