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The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which operates the port at Hay Point, argued in a statement that all the spillage would occur at 100 km away from the reef waters, and will cause minimal damage. However, they agree that the home is area to “coral communities [..] and coastal habitats including mangroves”, as well as “a number of protected fauna species [..] including marine turtles, whales, dolphins, dugong, migratory shorebirds and the Water Mouse,” but argue that the area “does not provide critical habitat for any protected marine species.”

“Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary, short-term impacts to benthic habitat possible.”

“Risks to sensitive habitats such coral communities are predicted to be low to negligible as they lie outside of area expected to have altered turbidity and sedimentation.”

However, environmentalists and researchers say this only adds insult to injury, and places the already struggling reef at even more risk.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” Australia Green Party senator Larissa Waters, who hopes to get the permit revoked, tells Smee. “One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.”

Dr. Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton echoed similar concerns, saying that it will be difficult to carry out the operation in a way that does little damage to corals. If the material gets too close to the reef, it can smother the corals, and even at large distances, trace metals and other chemicals can still have a damaging effect on the corals.

“If it’s put into shallow water it will smother sea life,” he told the BBC. “It’s important they get it right. It’ll cost more money but that’s not the environment’s problem – that’s the port authorities’ problem.”

Corals, and the Great Barrier Reef, in particular, are under massive threat from rising temperatures and bleaching effects. Studies have also shown that human activity is one of the main reasons why the reef is in decline..