Mackay Conservation Group is opposing the planned expansion of the Abbot Point coal port north of Townsville in Queensland. The group is against the increase in number of coal terminals to nine from the current three because of the impact of the expansion on waterways and communities within a 500-kilometre radius of the port.
Patricia Julien, spokesman of Mackay, said the impact would be felt on the Belyando River as pollution flows from the massive mines right out to the reef and from coal dusts from the trains.
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She pointed out that 20,000 bird species use the wetlands.
"If you look at the amount of production, 400-million tonnes, and you look at the exploration permits that are all over the Galilee Basin, and then you look at the growing gas industry, it's obvious that there's going to be pressure for more and more and more terminals," Ms Julien said.
Mackay has on its side the Greens Party, which called on the federal government to stop the approval of the coal port expansion because of its impact on Australia's climate and energy policies.
However, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson criticised the Greens' demand for failure to recognise that the resources boom is bringing investments, exports, opportunities, jobs and prosperity to Australians.
"Martin Ferguson's fossil-fuel fixation is at odds with (Climate Change Minister) Greg Combet's Clean Energy Future plans and Tony Burke has to choose which side he is going to come down - coal or the climate," The Australian quoted Greens Deputy Leader Christine Milne.
With the planned expansion, the port's capacity would increase to over 400 million tonnes from the current 50 million tonnes to keep pace with the mining industry's output. That would mean 1,300 vessels would call on the port yearly by 2017 from the present 200, said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.
The redevelopment would cost $9 billion but would be funded by private investors. With the expansion, 11 bulk carriers filled with coal could call on the part simultaneously.
"Investment of this magnitude will drive an enormous economic surge through north Queensland, potentially creating tens of thousands of jobs," Ms Bligh said in a statement.
Among the three existing coal ports in the state, Abbot Point is the most sensitive because it is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. To reach Abbot Point, vessels enter the reef north of Townsville and negotiate about 200 kilometres of inshore waters.
Australian Marine Conservation Society Director Darren Kindleysides warned that the expansion would expose the Great Barrier Reef to increase maritime activity and dredging. He sought compulsory pilotage for vessels that would transverse the reef to avoid a repeat of the oil spill caused by the coal carrier Shen Neng 1 when the ship ran aground off Rockhampton in 2010.
"If the government is going to approve this sort of super-expansion of ports then we need to make sure that the right mitigation measures are in place that reduces that increased risk to the world heritage Great Barrier Reef from shipping," Mr Kindleysides told AAP.