Great Barrier Reef

Published 3:43 PM ET, Fri January 31, 2014
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A clownfish swims in the Great Barrier Reef, a diverse ecosystem stretching 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) along the Queensland coast of Australia. A plan has been approved by the Australian government to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The proposal gained final approval by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and is subject to "strict conditions." Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
The marine park is home to thousands of species of coral, fish, molluscs, jellyfish, sharks and whales. Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
The dredged spoil will come from the proposed expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point, south of Townsville on the Queensland coast. The plan to dump it in the marine park is opposed by environmental groups, including Greenpeace. Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
WWF Australia spokesman Richard Leck said the plan's approval marked a "sad day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future." A statement released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said "it's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds." Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
The Great Barrier Reef was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
Bruce Elliot, the marine park authority's general manager for biodiversity, conservation and sustainable use, said 47 environmental safeguards would protect the reef and seagrasses, along with the social and heritage uses of the marine park. Richard T. Griffiths/CNN
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is 345,000 square kilometers (133,205 square miles) in size. Richard T. Griffiths/CNN