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Australia's Barrier Reef Endangered in Shale Oil Debate

25/06/2013 14:43 BST | Updated 25/08/2013 10:12 BST

Mining for shale oil under the Great Barrier Reef sounds like something that would never be allowed to pass. However, after it emerged that the Queensland state government were planning to lift a moratorium (a delay or suspension of an activity or law) on shale oil activities along the state's coastline, it seemed that the destruction of one the seven natural wonders of the world could perhaps become a reality.

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The decision to potentially lift the moratorium along the state of Queensland's coastline has been met with vastly different reactions. Some believe that the economic benefits and creation of jobs and income for the state will outweigh the problems the increase in shale oil activities will cause towards the reef, whereas others are adamant that it would be "environmental vandalism". But the proposed increase of shale oil activities along the Queensland coast came at a time when the Barrier Reef was already in the headlines, after a warning from the UN that the natural wonder's world heritage status could be downgraded in 2014.

Australia was told that little had been done to address the issues that had previously been raised about the rampant coastal development and water quality in the reef area; and as such the reef would perhaps be considered for inclusion onto the list of the world heritage sites that are now in danger. While seeming to be more a of a slap on the wrist and a chance for Australia to 'buck up', the point that UNESCO had made was confirmed by the emergence of the possibility that shale oil mining would be made legal at all points along the Queensland coast, including underneath the Barrier Reef.

This caused an outpouring of outrage from many Australians and other nations, as the threat that the danger the Great Barrier Reef faces could become a reality. The Fight for the Reef campaign (an organisation in partnership with WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society) outlines what it is that is being proposed to be developed along the Queensland coast. The Queensland Government wants to fast track mega port developments and the dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seabed and rock within the Great Barrier Reef area. While the debate continues between the Australian and Queensland Governments, UNESCO, environmentalist groups, mining corporations and the general public, the main aims that Fight for the Reef want to achieve are to permanently prohibit new port developments and dredge material dumping within the World Heritage area. It aims to limit ship numbers and anchorages to ensure no impact on the reef, and invest new funding into protecting and restoring the key ecosystems of the reef.

It is a complex issue with many different groups involved in the debate, although the answer seems simple to many environmentalists - protect the reef and don't plan for more ship traffic and development on the Queensland coast. However, the fact is that oil is one of the most lucrative and used fossil fuels that the planet holds, and a large chunk of it will be found underneath the reef. This is a huge temptation for oil companies and the Government that would stand to benefit from the mining of this oil. However, it seems that Queensland and Australian Government have a choice to make, one which will demonstrate what is more important - the money that can be made from the shale oil mining, or the protection and marine conservation of an area abundant in biodiversity.

Author Ellie Cambridge, is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs 320 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. It currently works with volunteers in the South Pacific protecting fragile reef systems in Fiji. She can be found blogging on Frontier's Gap Year Blog or posting on the Frontier Official Facebook page.