Jack Schmidt talks about his love of the Great Barrier Reef, and how we’re maybe destroying it.

Australia loves its natural resources… Wait, let me rephrase that. Australia loves some of its natural resources. We love the profitable ones: coal, iron ore, uranium, coal seam gas, the ones which fuel our giant air-conditioners, the ones China buy, the ones which keep Gina well fed. In fact we’re desperately in love with them, even if they are grubby and abusive. As for our other flimsy assets, you know, our forests, reefs, soils and rivers…well, they just get in the way. For any observer of political and economic discourse in this country, it’s hard to ignore the entrenchment of a perverse kind of resource hierarchy, wherein tradable materials like coal and iron ore are valued above our irreplaceable living, breathing natural resources, the ones which aren’t backed by big business billions. It’s a ludicrously short-sighted hierarchy, which is currently manifesting itself in expansive mining and shipping proposals across the country.

COAL VS. THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

The Great Barrier Reef is a truly magnificent natural asset: UNESCO World Heritage listed, home to an astounding array of marine life, and the largest coral reef in the world. But the reef is not well. Already battered by crown-of-thorn starfish, agricultural runoff, and ocean acidification, it is now faced with a sickening new threat: a baffling suite of mining port development proposals up and down the Queensland coast. Abbott Point, Hay Point and Gladstone are key targets. The proposals involve the dredging of millions of cubic metres of ocean floor for shipping channels. Disturbing the ocean’s floor to this extent is truly mad, destroying vital marine habitats for endangered species like the Loggerhead and Oliver Ridley turtles. This flurry of proposals is all part of a plan to improve export channels for Queensland’s booming new Galilee Basin coalmines. Clive Palmer is among the magnates busy staking claim to this rich black vein. At full operation, these ports would see over 10 000 ships passing through the reef annually by 2020. That’s up from just 1722 ships in 2011. Imagine, a barrage of heaving metal bulkers skirting precariously around our watery wonderland, increasing the risk of catastrophic spills and disrupting the migration of precious sea creatures like Humpback whales.

UNESCO has made it clear that Australia should not “permit any new port development or associated infrastructure outside of the existing and long-established major ports within or adjoining the property.”’. Discussions in Queensland regarding the environmental impacts of the proposed ports are ongoing. Before you label me a fanciful, left-wing, tree-hugging nutbag greenie, sit down and think rationally about the current state of affairs here. I’m humbly suggesting a reconsideration of our value judgements when it comes to resources. The Great Barrier Reef represents much more than a pretty-coloured tourist attraction. Mining may be profitable in the short-term, but it will irreparably damage this biosphere. Besides, what is this “profit” really? Who profits? And at what cost? Of course, if we must think in monetary terms, reefs are worth billions for sustainable industries like eco-tourism into the future. One oil spill will destroy reef tourism in a heartbeat. But what’s really illogical is toying with natural resources, which actually sustain life on earth in the long-term. We’re still informed by a misguided mantra of human ‘progress’, a myth of perpetual economic ‘growth’. We construe humanity and nature as separate entities, convince ourselves that nature is merely an obstacle in our quest for supremacy, that it’ll regenerate itself once we’re done with it. We settle into apathy, as politicians, lobbyists and corporate think-tanks muddy the waters on environmental science. We convince ourselves that mining really is entrepreneurial and innovative, when in fact it’s glorified fucking hole-digging. Surely, in a world groaning under the weight of seven billion people, our few remaining pockets of pristine environment should be sacrosanct. Surely, we can look beyond the now. Surely, we’re smarter than this.