Australia’s world wonder, the Great Barrier Reef, continues to face adversity and an uncertain future. In addition to ocean acidification and rising temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef is up against a new foe: the dumping of more than one million tons of sludge. Here, we share the details on this decision and how it will impact one of our planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

The Plan and Implications

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the disposal of more than one million tons of dredge spoils near the reef throughout the next decade. The first load of sludge is expected to be disposed of this month, which will further stress the reef’s ecosystem. The permit approval to dump waste was granted just days before north and central Queensland experienced massive flooding, which released a large amount of sediment into the waters. Since the Great Barrier Reef is already struggling with the strain of excess sediment, bleaching, and rising temperatures, the recent approval of sludge dumping is expected to further erode the environment.

This controversial decision is already being protested by environmentalists, but the outcome remains uncertain. The dumping of sludge was authorized due to a loophole in the current law. Although the Australian government banned dumping of waste within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef in 2015, this rule only applies to new projects. The current legislation doesn’t apply to maintenance projects, and the permit was granted to an existing project: dredging to deepen shipping lanes of the Port of Hay Point.

Although the plan to dump sludge has been approved and is already underway, reef advocates argue that this action will have devastating consequences for this natural wonder. The full spectrum of effects is yet to be seen, but algae overgrowth and further coral degradation are expected to be likely outcomes.

Unfortunately, the Great Barrier Reef’s decline appears to be accelerating. This trend will continue if drastic steps aren’t taken to curb ocean acidification, dumping of waste, and pollution. If action isn’t taken soon, preservation of live coral will likely depend upon captive propagation.

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