The world’s largest coral reef is facing a major sludge crisis. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority just approved the dumping of one million tons of sludge on the delicate reef system thanks to a loophole in the country’s law.

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Marine officials say that port industries have the right to dump waste that is dredged from the ocean floor wherever they want, including over the Great Barrier Reef. Environmentalists are concerned that the sludge will “smother” the reef and are looking to dump the waste elsewhere.

Related: University of Queensland wants to drop “bommies” on the Great Barrier Reef

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” Larissa Waters, co-head of the Greens Party, explained. “One million tons of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.”

According to BBC, Waters warned that if the sludge is dumped directly over the reef, it could have devastating effects on the ecosystem, which is already coping with global warming and recent flooding in the area. The majority of the sludge is being removed from ocean floors in Hay Point Port — a region that leads the world in coal exports.

Although environmentalists are concerned about dumping one million tons of sludge on the Great Barrier Reef, officials with the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation do not believe it is an issue. The company just released a statement online about how the sludge dump will have a low impact on the coral reef and will only affect it in the short-term.

The closer the sludge is dumped on the coral reef, the worse it will affect it in the long-term. Experts believe that if the sludge is placed farther out, then it will have less of an impact on the coral reef. That said, the waste still contains trace metals, which can harm the delicate ecosystem.

The sludge controversy comes a year after Australia promised to dedicate $500 million AUD to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Over the past few years, the coral reef has been reduced by 30 percent, mostly due to an invasive species of starfish called the crown-of-thorns and significant coral bleaching.


Image via Kyle Taylor