Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is home to a tremendous array of endangered species, some found nowhere else in the world. Renowned for its beautiful corals and water clarity, the reef was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area in 1981. Several reef species, including dugongs and loggerhead and green sea turtles, have been listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
But this vast reef, with its incredible wildlife and rare seagrass habitat, is now at risk — from the U.S. government.
Check out this clip of the Center’s Senior Attorney Sarah Uhlemann's interview for renowned reporter Dan Rather on threats to the Great Barrier Reef. (You can get the entire video from iTunes.)
The U.S. Export-Import Bank, which finances development projects worldwide, has approved $5 billion in American financing for the construction of two massive liquefied natural gas plants in Queensland, Australia. The facilities will be built within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, eliminating seagrass habitat and increasing tanker traffic across the reef by 13 percent. Dredging and dumping for these facilities have already created a 20-mile sediment plume, ever creeping closer to world-renowned coral reefs and dive spots. Strandings of endangered dugongs and sea turtles have skyrocketed, while local fishermen’s catch has plummeted due to contaminated sediment in the waters. The only profiteers from this project are its Big Oil proponents — ConocoPhillips and the Chinese state-run oil company Sinopec.
Yet the U.S. Ex-Im Bank funded these controversial fossil fuel projects without applying U.S. environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. These laws require all U.S. agencies to evaluate each project funded, regardless of where it occurs, and to avoid impacts on protected species and World Heritage Areas like the Great Barrier Reef. The Center has filed a lawsuit to challenge Ex-Im’s Australia funding and to establish that all U.S. agencies must comply with U.S. standards and before funding destructive projects worldwide.
The Center also works to protect other Great Barrier Reef species. Besides our work to protect loggerhead sea turtles, in 2012 we submitted a petition to list Australia’s orange clownfish — famous for its leading role in the movie Finding Nemo — and other coral-dependent imperiled reef fish under the Endangered Species Act. And our work to fight climate change and fossil fuel production will help protect coral reef ecosystems worldwide from the damaging effects of ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures.