Australia's federal government has formally approved a plan to construct the world's largest coal terminal at Abbot Point in northern Queensland, just 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the Great Barrier Reef.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the project could go ahead, but only under conditions aimed at protecting the reef marine park from the 1.1 million cubic meters of sludge that would have to be dredged to create the port.
All sludge dug up during dredging would have to be disposed of on land rather than at sea, as was originally planned.
Initial plans called for three million cubic meters of material to be dredged and dumped into waters around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. However, this was later abandoned after protests.
The Great Barrier Reef is just 19 kilometers out to sea, and coal transport ships will have to navigate a passage through.
With the approval, the terminal is set to become one of the largest in the world, providing export facilities for a major expansion of coal mines in Queensland, including the proposed giant Carmichael mine.
Environmentalists have argued that any expansion at Abbot Point would endanger the World Heritage-listed reef and destroy habitats.
Environmental group 350.org has also condemned the approval of the coal export terminal so soon after the Paris Climate Summit and agreement.
Campaign manager Moira Williams said it was a gateway for coal mining corporations to "unlock one of the world's largest stores of climate-wrecking carbon on the planet."
"The government can't seriously sign on to deals which limit climate damage to 2 degrees and then give a green light to massive coal export projects which guarantee that the 2 degree target can never be met."
The 16-billion-Australian-dollar ($11.5 billion) mine will consist of six huge open-cut pits and five underground mines. The ultimate destination for the coal is India where it will be used to generate electricity for 100 million people.
Supporters have said the project would provide thousands of jobs and pump millions into the local economy.
av/rc (DPA, AP, AFP)