It is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and regarded as a global treasure, but experts have warned Australia's already fragile Great Barrier Reef in under threat in what could be an environmental disaster with global implications.
Australia's new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who once famously said that climate change is "crap," has been accused of removing climate policies that protected the environment to allow the rich to become richer.
The expansion of destructive coal facilities in the World Heritage Area are being driven by the potential development of nine mega-mines in Queensland’s vast Galilee Basin.
The Basin represents the world’s second largest reserve of unexploited fossil fuel and if green-lighted, would result in thousands more coal ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef every year - a move branded "environmental madness."
In a potentially disastrous "double-whammy," Greenpeace told HuffPost UK that Australia's reef not only faces being irreversibly damaged, but, additionally, as a result of the mining, the country's coal production threatens to spark carbon emissions on an unprecedented level.
Now, UNESCO is considering whether the Great Barrier Reef should be put on the list of World Heritage sites in danger – often dubbed the “shame list” by conservationists – while Greenpeace has said they face a fierce fight against the Australian Government and those funding the mining projects.
"We're in for a major battle," said Greenpeace's Louise Matthiesson.
"Australia is facing a hard choice right now whether to make a quick buck from coal exports or whether to preserve an economically, long-standing national treasure.
"We fear Tony Abbott could overturn all the steps that have been taken domestically to protect the environment, to instead fast track coal export developments and drastically weaken environmental laws that were created to protect the country," she said.
In June, a UN report expressed "extreme concern" over the level of development along the Great Barrier Reef coast, calling for all building to cease until an assessment of the ecosystem's health was carried out.
UNESCO issued a stark warning against the construction of new ports or increased shipping in the region, having already expressed concern about the "limited progress" Australia has made in a plan to protect the reef from development in May this year.
At the time Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said being put on the danger list would represent a “huge international embarrassment for the country.”
If the proposals were to go ahead the reef could lose its World Heritage status, while the dredging and dumping of 3m cubic metres of material inside the Great Barrier Reef marine park would threaten coral, dugongs, turtles, dolphins and much of the rest of the reef’s profusion of life, Greenpeace warned.
“All the numbers are heading in the wrong direction,” said David Ritter, the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“As the Arctic ice melt plunges new depths, Australia’s coal exports are preparing to soar to new heights – the two are not unrelated," he said.
The scale of the planned mining operations in the Galilee Basin has global implications, he warned.
However, Queensland's premier, Campbell Newman, has already urged Abbott to approve the massive new coal projects in the state "as soon as possible."
Newman told ABC Radio he had been called by the prime minister elect to discuss the "blockers" faced by the Queensland government.
He said he told Abbott "to get out of the way and let this government get on with taking the state forward economically".
Australia's burgeoning coal export industry, already the largest in the world, could grow to 408m tonnes of shipped resources a year by 2025, resulting in an annual 760m tonnes of CO2 – creating more carbon pollution than the entire United Kingdom or Canada.
Additionally the increased risk of accidents on the reef from the increased shipping traffic could be disastrous The Wilderness Society's Queensland campaign manager, Dr Tim Seelig told ABC.
"There is no question that UNESCO are going to have major problems with any proposal to be shifting coal from barges onto container ships in the Great Barrier Reef area," he said.
"That's just environmental madness. And it's inconceivable that UNESCO would allow that to happen.”
A campaign to "Save The Reef" has already gathered more than 200,000 supporters.
This April 21, 2010 photo shows a hawksbill sea turtle as it cruises over a reef just off the shore of Curacao. From mesmerizingly decorative buildings to lush coral reefs beneath sparkling turquoise waters, this Dutch Caribbean island has more than enough sights on land and under the sea to keep visitors restfully busy for a week. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
This April 9, 2012 photo provided by NOAA shows french grunts swimming around sponges and coral off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, taken as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea-floor habitat research project aboard NOAA's Nancy Foster ship. In a three-week project that wraps up Saturday April 21, scientists with the NOAA are mapping an area to help officials determine what sort of rules are needed to protect the recently created Northeast Great Reserve, Puerto Rico's first officially designated marine corridor. (AP Photo/NOAA)
FILE - In this undated file photo released by Conservation International, a healthy coral reef is seen off the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says the Caribbean's reefs are in sharp decline, with live coral coverage down to an average of just 8 percent, in a report released Sept. 7, 2012. That's down from 50 percent in the 1970s. (AP Photo/Andy Bruckner, NOAA Fisheries, File)
This image provided by NOAA shows a close look one of the many interesting images collected by the Little Hercules ROV during the INDEX 2010 Exploration of the Sangihe Talaud Region off Indonesia in July. Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colorful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor _ including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous. They predicted Thursday Aug. 26, 2010 that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended Aug. 14. (AP Photo/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2006 file photo provided by Centre of Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, fish swim amongst bleached coral near the Keppel Islands in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2009 file photo, orange colored ringed rice coral, or montipora patula, is seen in waters off Waimanalo, Hawaii. A study by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Americans value coral reefs around the main Hawaiian Islands at the amount of $33.57 billion. Researchers arrived at the figure by surveying 3,200 Americans across the nation and asking them how much of their income taxes they would want devoted to hypothetical initiatives to improve the health of Hawaii's coral reefs. (AP Photo/Keoki Stender, file)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY A scientist diver discovers the flora and fauna located on artificial reefs, by 30 meters deep (98.42 ft) on July 8, 2012 off shore of southern city of Marseille. The immersion in 2008 of nearly 30,000m3 (1.059.439 ft3) of artificial reefs in the bay of Marseilles rose to a return of the species. The presence of such some 200 hectars (494 acres) of artificial habitat for flora and fauna, located between the islands of Friuli and the Prado Bay, is 'the largest artificial reef made ??up in Europe,' said Didier Reault, French right wing party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) City delegate to boating, beaches and national park of the Calanques. A Big Blue in a 'good ecological status' in 2020 ? This is the aim of the Water Agency and of the Interregional Sea Directorates (DIRM), a French Minister of Ecology Department, providing a financing project of 600 million euros (737 millions dollars) over six years including 6 millions (7.37 millions dollars) to raise awareness. AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/GettyImages)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-P
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-PAPUA-MINES, FEATURE BY LOIC VENNIN In this photograph taken on October 21, 2011 a diver explores the coral reef in the waters of Raja Ampat's Kri Island located in eastern Indonesia's Papua region. Called the last paradise on earth, Raja Ampat acrhipelago was nominated as World Heritage Site of UNESCO with its largely pristine environment considered as one of the most important marine biodiversity in the world. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Two-year-old Green Sea Turtle "Sea Biscu
Two-year-old Green Sea Turtle 'Sea Biscuit' with her front left flipper missing, swims in a tropical reef aquarium at Oceanworld Manly, north of Sydney on May 20, 2011. Sea Biscuit who was rescued by Oceanworld staff in 2009 and was so badly injured when washed ashore that she lost her front left flipper, has been handraised by senior aquarist Marina Tsamoulos and has learnt to dive and swim with her remaining three flippers. World Turtle Day will be celebrated on May 23. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows white coral syndrome in Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Australian Institute of Marine Science, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, fish swim near coral reefs in the waters in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens off the Komodo Islands were just a few months ago teeming with clouds of brightly colored reef fish, octopi with fluorescent banded eyes and black-and-blue striped sea snakes. Today, after being pounded by increasingly brazen blast fisherman, several diving sites within the U.N. World Heritage Site have been transformed into desolate grey moonscapes. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, coral reefs are seen in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
A photo taken by a camera submerged into
A photo taken by a camera submerged into a pond shows small fish seen swimming under thin ice in St. Petersburg park on February 13, 2011. PHOTO/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Environmental Groups Challenge Navy's Use Of Sonar In West Coast Training Exercises
ABOARD THE MANUTEA, CA - JANUARY 30: Bottlenose dolphins swim ahead of the bow of a boat off the southern California coast on January 30, 2012 near Dana Point, California. A coalition that includes Native American tribes, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council is on the National Marine Fisheries Service for more protection for dolphins, whales, and other migrating marine animals from the use of sonar in training by the US Navy on the West Coast. Environmental groups argue that mid-frequency sonar alters the behavior of sound-sensitive marine life and, in some cases, causes fatal results. Some whales are believed to communicate across hundreds of miles of ocean through sound. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)