For the first time, Australia has stopped building a coal mine because of environmental laws.
The government turned down a plan for a new mine about 10 km (6.2 miles) from the Great Barrier Reef on Thursday.
Tanya Plibersek, in charge of the environment, said that the World Heritage area was already in a bad place and needed the project to be even more dangerous.
The mine is owned by the controversial Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, who hasn’t said anything about the decision yet.
His company, Central Queensland Coal, wanted to build an open-cut mine about 700 km west of Brisbane that would run for about 20 years and produce both thermal coal and coking coal.
Last year, Ms. Plibersek said that the federal government might shut the mine down. But after putting it out for public comment, her department got more than 9,000 responses in 10 days. Most of them wanted to stop the project.
The Great Barrier Reef has more coral reefs than any other place on Earth. However, rising sea temperatures have caused four mass bleachings in the last six years, and experts say the future of the Reef is “very poor.”
Last year, the state government of Queensland also told the federal government to reject the plan because it posed “significant” risks to the environment.
Minister Plibersek’s office agreed that finding sediment and runoff from the open-cut mine would hurt the Reef and local water supplies.
Even though plans have been turned down by state governments before, this is the first time that a federal Environment Minister has done so.
Some people have been trying to get Australia’s new Labor government, which took power in May, to stop any new coal and gas mining projects.
Environmentalists like the Greens political party say that the country can’t stop dangerous climate change or keep global warming below a 1.5C rise this century if it lets new mines open.
The rest of the world gets a lot of fossil fuels from Australia. Even though the country only has 0.3% of the world’s population, when exports are taken into account, it is responsible for 3.6% of the world’s emissions.
Even though Australia’s new government has set a much higher goal for reducing emissions by 2030, it has also said it will approve any new fossil fuel projects that make business sense.
The Great Barrier Reef is in danger
A study found that storms and coral bleaching caused the coral in most of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to grow back to record levels.
The north and center of the Reef have the most coral cover. Since monitoring started 36 years ago, this has always been the case.
But in the southern part of the Reef, there are fewer corals.
Officials say that the new coral needs to be stronger, which means that climate change and other threats could quickly reverse the progress.
Every year, the Reef is checked by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims). To do this, they take surveys from the air and slowly pull divers behind boats.
After the fourth mass bleaching in six years was confirmed in March, Aims was worried about this year’s study.
When the water is too warm, the algae that give corals their color and life are pushed out of the corals.
Before 2016, only two large-scale bleaching events had happened.
This year was the first time bleaching happened during a La Nia, which usually causes water temperatures to drop.
Dr. Hardisty says that these new results show that the Reef can recover if the conditions are right, but that “acute and severe disturbances” happen more often and for longer periods.
The Reef has also been damaged by crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat coral, and tropical cyclones, which cause waves that damage the Reef.
Dr. Mike Emslie from Aims said that Acropora, a type of new coral, is especially vulnerable to the dangers of the Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef has been on the World Heritage list for 40 years because it has “enormous scientific and intrinsic importance” and is one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, in charge of the Reef, says climate change makes the outlook “very poor” for the famous Reef.
Unesco, the UN agency for science and culture, says more must be done to protect the Reef.
Why is the Reef so important, and what is it?
The Great Barrier Reef has been on the World Heritage list for 40 years because it has “enormous scientific and intrinsic importance.”
Off the northeast coast of Australia, about 3,000 reefs spread out over 2,300km (1,400 miles).
It is one of the ecosystems with the most kinds of living things in it. For example, both fish and plants live in coral structures.
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Scientists have been surprised by how beautiful and full of life the Reef has been since the 1970s.
It is home to more than 400 kinds of coral, 1,500 fish, and endangered animals like the large green turtle.
As an ocean structure, it also helps keep big waves and storms away from the coast.