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Australia approves Abbot Point coal port expansion

Abbot Point, Queensland. March 2012 Image copyright Tom Jefferson
Image caption A 2012 picture of Abbot Point and Caley Valley Wetlands - home to more than 40,000 water birds

Australia has approved the expansion of an existing coal port at Abbot Point near Bowen in north Queensland.

The controversial project will see Abbot Point become one of the world's biggest coal ports.

The expansion will involve dredging one million cubic metres of spoil near the Great Barrier Reef which will then be dumped on land.

Conservationists have said the project will have a significant impact on the area's wildlife and surrounds.

The expansion project is key to the success of a coal mine to be built by India's Adani Mining - the Carmichael project. Adani expects to export coal from the expanded port.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the expansion of the project on Thursday.

'Damaging dredge'

Environmental group WWF said 61 hectares of seabed would be "ripped up", creating the dredge spoil.

"It's disappointing that the minister has approved this project within the [Barrier Reef area], despite the damage it will do," spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said.

"Damaging dredge plumes will be created harming sea grass and potentially reaching nearby coral reefs," she added.

In an original proposal for the port expansion, the dredge spoil was to be dumped at sea. However, in response to public pressure, that proposal was not approved.

Image caption Australia has approved the expansion of a coal port at Abbot Point near Bowen in north Queensland.

The government said its Thursday decision to approve the expansion "explicitly excludes the disposal of dredge material offshore in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage property".

WWF said the dredge spoil will now be dumped on land next to wetlands that are home to more than 40,000 water birds.

The waters around Abbot Point port are also home to sea turtles, dugongs and dolphins, WWF said.

However, a spokesperson from Mr Hunt's office said no dredge material would be placed in the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage Area or the Caley Valley Wetlands and that all dredge material would be placed onshore on existing industrial land.

"The port area is at least 20 kilometres from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted," they said.

Mr Hunt's office said the approved dredging had been reduced by 97% from the original proposal.

Adani said in a statement that the expansion of Abbot Point - which it described as the lifeblood of Bowen - was "key to Adani's plans to deliver 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and A$22bn in taxes and royalties to Queensland."

The project was proposed and developed by Queensland state government. Further approvals are required from the Queensland Government.

Giant mine

In October, Australia's government gave approval for one of the world's biggest coal mines to be built by India's Adani Mining in Queensland.

After a court temporarily blocked the project due to environmental concerns, an approval was granted subject to 36 of the strictest conditions in Australian history.

The approval followed a long running debate between those for and against the mine. Critics said the decision was grossly irresponsible.

Mr Hunt said he retained the power to suspend or revoke the approval and stressed that strict penalties would apply if there was breach of the conditions.

The mine will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney Harbour.

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