Australian Maritime Safety AuthorityUgh. Everything about this is bad: A Chinese freighter crashed into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Saturday, running aground and spilling heavy fuel oil into the water. The ship is stuck, and while the flow of oil has been stopped, rescuers worry that righting the ship could create even more spillage.
Coral reefs cover less than one percent of earth’s oceans, but are home to about 25 percent of identified marine species. The Great Barrier Reef is the king of coral reefs — stunning, ecologically priceless, full of matchless biological diversity, and in grave danger. Even before this most recent oil spill, rising ocean temperatures and acidity levels and previous toxic shipwrecks have threatened the reef.
Besides its fuel, the ship that rammed the reef was carrying another toxic fuel—Australian coal meant for power-plant furnaces in China. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and China the world’s largest consumer of coal, so the route the ship was supposed to run is a common one. But the coal is incidental—the ship could have been carrying solar panels and the fuel spill would have been just as damaging.
There are reports of potential fines in excess of $1 million. This is ludicrous, of course, as there’s no way to put a price on an ecosystem which is unlike any other in the world. The hope is that such fines are steep enough to scare shippers into more careful practices.
Coral around the world is sad today.