The Great Barrier Reef will become little more than a mass of seaweed if the development of coal ports on the Queensland coast continues, a marine expert says.
Professor Callum Roberts says mining firms don’t care about the reef, and the Queensland government needs to do more to protect ‘this global icon’.
‘Most of the (mining firms) don’t give a stuff about the environment,’ Prof Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York in England, told AAP.
‘The Great Barrier Reef requires the very best protection.
‘It deserves the very best, if it is going to survive.’
Prof Roberts, whose research examines the impact of human activity on marine ecosystems, has served on the US National Research Council Committee and worked with the World Conservation Union.
Last weekend he visited Abbot Point near Bowen, Yeppoon near Rockhampton, and Gladstone to assess damage and determine what harm future projects may cause.
A section of the reef off the central Queensland coast, where there is a concentration of coal terminals, is in the worst state, he says.
‘It’s obvious in looking at it visually that the impacts are spreading like a bruise from the coastline.’
He described the level of development in Gladstone as shocking.
‘What we’ve got is this sprawling development which goes for miles and miles, rather than being constrained,’ he said.
Proposed expansion of the port at Abbot Point, which would include significant dredging, would impact the reef, he said.
A boost in the number of ships carrying minerals across the reef would also increase the chances of a spill.
And loud noises from ships could cause chronic stress for marine life.
Any development at Fitzroy River at Yeppoon, which Prof Roberts says is a complex and valuable eco-system home to many species, could be devastating.
The estuary filters water which runs off land before it is dispersed into the ocean.
Prof Roberts agrees with a UNESCO ruling that the Great Barrier Reef is under threat.
Last year, UNESCO said the Great Barrier Reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger due to the rapid increase in coastal developments.
The federal government must now report back to UNESCO outlining how the reef will be preserved.
Prof Roberts says the reef will likely be covered in seaweed within two decades if changes aren’t made.
‘We’ll have little in the way of the wonderful life that we have grown to love and enjoy and which fuels Australia’s tourism industry,’ he said.