Melbourne: UNESCO today threatened to list Australia`s Great Barrier Reef as a `World Heritage in Danger` site, for allowing the dumping of up to three million cubic metres of dredged sediment by Indian companies GVK and Adani Group as part of a major coal port expansion plan.
Reef authorities granted permission for the dumping in January as part of a project to create one of the world`s biggest coal ports, triggering protests by environmentalists.
The nod by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) would pave the way for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump dredged material for two terminals which have been undertaken by two Indian firms Adani Enterprises and GVK-Hancock, a partnership of?Indian conglomerate GVK and Hancock Coal.
Scientists have warned that the sediment could smother or poison coral, hastening the death of the reef, which is already considered to be in "poor" health.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation said given "significant threats" to the reef, it should be considered for inclusion on the danger list.
In its first comments on the issue, UNESCO "noted with concern" and "regrets" the plan, which it said "was approved despite an indication that less-impacting disposal alternatives may exist".
It asked the government to provide a new report to the World Heritage Committee proving that dumping was the least damaging option and would not hurt the reef`s value.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world`s largest coral structure, rich in marine life and stretches for over 2,600 km along Australia`s eastern coast.
The dumping is part of a major development that would allow several companies to export coal reserves from the Galilee Basin area through the Abbot Point port, that lies south of Townsville on the Queensland coast.
Late last year, the Australian government approved an application for the coal terminal to be expanded. The dredging is needed to allow ships into the port.