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WWF study rips dumping of waste in Great Barrier Reef

| Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, 7:33 p.m.

SYDNEY — Australia's Great Barrier Reef could be “severely damaged” if the government does not completely ban the dumping of dredge waste in the World Heritage-listed waters, according to a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund that was released Monday.

The Australian government in January ordered a ban on dumping dredge spoil in the marine park as part of a push to stop the United Nations declaring the site in danger.

But the ban does not include most islands and ports, as well as lakes and other waterways that fall outside the marine park but inside the slightly larger World Heritage Area.

Conservationists say dumping waste in reef waters damages it by smothering corals and sea grasses, and exposing them to poisons and high levels of nutrients.

The report said port expansions within reef waters could cause 1.8 billion cubic feet of the ocean floor to be dug up, which would have “devastating impacts” on the natural wonder.

“These places need to be protected and not used as an industrial dumping ground,” WWF-Australia Chief Executive Dermot O'Gorman told Reuters.

“The Great Barrier Reef Under Threat” report said the ban won't fix the problem because the 138,000-square-mile marine park, which is slightly smaller than the World Heritage Site, doesn't include most of the islands and waters around the ports where most of the dumping has occurred to date.

One of the planet's most diverse ocean habitats, the Great Barrier Reef hosts 400 types of coral, 1,500 types of fish, rare snubfin dolphins and a variety of turtle species under threat of extinction. The World Heritage Committee has warned it might put the reef on its list of at-risk sites at its June meeting if Australia hasn't done enough to protect the ecosystem.

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