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A Shocking Loophole Allows for Sludge Dumping in This Natural Wonder of the World

And it’s fine, apparently.

Australia is facing controversy from environmentalists around the world after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority agreed to allow one million tons of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef. The confirmation came by way of a loophole that, according to BBC News, specifies “the laws don’t apply to materials generated from port maintenance work.”

Despite the fact that the government banned capital drudge disposal around the reef in 2015, it doesn’t look like this new process is set to be revoked any time soon. According to The Guardian, the loophole in the case refers to sludge that is removed from shipping lanes by maintenance dredging at ports as it builds up, which was not part of the 2015 ruling against capital dredging.

Capital dredging is dredging designed to create space for a new harbor and larger ships. Maintenance dredging is slightly different and involves such actions as removing sludge from shipping lanes as it builds up. The operation–which will be carried out over a period of 10 years at Mackay’s Hay Point–will commence in March.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,”  Senator Larissa Waters of The Greens (Australia’s green political party) told The Guardian. She also called for the action to be halted.

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North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, who claims the dredging is “critical for maintaining port infrastructure,” released a statement that says this new plan found the risks to the Reef are minimal. “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,” their site reads.

The Great Barrier Reef Is in Trouble

Last year, research found that despite being able to recover over the last 30,000 years from natural disasters, changes in sea level and water quality have made The Great Barrier Reef extremely vulnerable in more recent times. Such major issues include coral bleaching and overfishing. The former occurs when the temperature of the water reaches high levels and because of stress, causes the coral to turn white. The latter is when too much commercial and sport fishing causes ripple effects to the marine food chain, which affects a balanced coral environment.

Ways You Can Make a Difference

The Great Barrier Reef, which stretches over 1,600 miles, is not only stunningly unique, it’s critical to life on earth. It harbors thousands of reef systems and provides shelter for hundreds of marine creatures, from sea turtles to stingrays. Sludge-dumping isn’t the only threat at hand, and there are actions you can take to help. Donating to an organization focused on conservation efforts, like the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, puts research efforts toward finding solutions for protecting the Reef. Additionally, properly disposing waste, conserving water, and choosing to travel in a more eco-friendly way–be it with responsible tour operators, and knowing to “look, but don’t touch”–are also a couple of ways to be both a thoughtful citizen of Earth and a thoughtful tourist.

Related: Trips That Make a Difference for Good in the World

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