Coalling All Snorkels: Environmental Groups Protest In Hyde Park Fountain

Coalling All Snorkels: Environmental Groups Protest In Hyde Park Fountain

Today was just a normal day in Hyde Park: joggers prancing through, businessmen snoozing, and people snorkelling in the Archibald Fountain.

Ah, yep. A group of environmental activists donned boardshorts, bikinis and snorkels and dived in at lunchtime to protest against industrial and mining development planned on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef.

Quit Coal, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society joined forces to organise the fountain frolic, arguing, “it’ll be the only place we can go snorkelling when the reef gets destroyed by coal”.

Coinciding with protests in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Mackay, Yeppoon and Rockhampton, more than thirty snorkelers aged from 17 to 72 braved the windy weather in Sydney to call on the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to halt the huge coal export developments that they say are threatening the coastline.

Mr Burke will today release a report on the Great Barrier Reef in response to a warning from UNESCO last year that the reef was at risk of losing its heritage listing, unless the government stepped up its conservation efforts.

As well as holding the epic title of the Largest Living Thing On Earth, the reef is considered a source of tens of thousands of jobs as a tourist mecca.

Quit Coal Sydney's Moira Williams says that since the dressing-down from UNESCO, “Tony Burke has approved a huge new coal shipment terminal at Abbot Point on the reef coast which will involve millions of tonnes of dredging, the loss of seagrass beds vital for turtles and dugongs, and the clearing of coastal wetlands.”

Campbell Newman responded to the UNESCO report by saying “we are in the coal business.”

But Tony Burke has said he is confident the government will do everything to meet conservation guidelines.

"From time to time, the Queensland Premier gets a rush of blood to the head, and starts demanding that we start giving approvals without the proper processes," he said.

"I can assure people we won't be giving an inch in terms of protecting the reef."

Environmental groups are taking his words with a grain of sea salt. “The coal industry has a poor history of environmental management and we have little faith that the planning process will change that,” Moira Williams said.

“If all the planned coal ports go ahead you can forget the reef, Sydneysiders will be holidaying in Hyde Park instead.”

The damage caused by the development will be “irreparable” according to Samantha Cooper, a co-ordinator with the AYCC.

“What’s more, the expansion of coal exports planned for Queensland will double Australia’s contribution to climate change, which will further threaten the reef and increase the intensity of extreme weather, like bushfires, droughts and floods.”

She hopes their snorkelling will make a statement. “We are one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world. It’s been shown time and again that Australia can transition to 100% renewable energy in just ten years – all we need now is for our business and political leaders to step up.”

Image via Quit Coal Sydney Facebook

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