When scientists from Australia’s Coral Bleaching Task Force conducted a series of aerial surveys of the Great Barrier Reef last month, they expected to find some damage from the world’s warming oceans around Lizard Island, north of Cooktown on Queensland’s northeast coast.
Instead they found a disaster of epic proportion. Ninety-five percent of more than 500 reefs stretching between Cairns and Papua New Guinea showed signs of bleaching — and some reefs appeared close to death.
The Great Barrier Reef had seen coral bleaching before, but this was the worst on record. Task force leader Terry Hughes, a professor of marine biology at James Cook University, described the group’s journey as the “saddest research trip of my life.”
So when the Queensland government approved three mining leases for Australia’s largest coal mine — which will require dredging of waters around the reef to make way for coal ships — many scientists and conservationists expressed further dismay.
Emissions from the $17 billion Carmichael coal mine, which includes a 100-mile-long rail line and one of the world’s largest coal ports, Abbot Point, are projected to be huge.
An estimated 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon will be released into the atmosphere over the mine’s lifetime. Annual emissions from the mine — 79 million metric tons — will be 20 percent more than the annual average emissions of New York City, according to calculations by the Australia Institute.
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