Australia spells out plans to protect Great Barrier Reef

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Australia detailed on Monday how it will ban dumping of all dredge soil in the Great Barrier Reef as it looks to step up protection of the world's largest reef and avoid having it listed by Unesco as "in danger".

Unesco's World Heritage Committee is due to decide in June whether to put the reef on its "in danger" list because its corals have been badly damaged and some of its animal species, including dugong and large green turtles, are threatened.

Such a listing could lead to restrictions on shipping and port expansions that could hit Australia's trade in commodities and energy.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt issued proposed changes to regulations to carry out the ban, which he announced in November, barring sea dumping of dredged soil in the 345,000 sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The park is under federal government control.

The Queensland state government also plans to ban dredge dumping in a further 3,000 sq km of sea, including port areas, so the whole of the World Heritage area, about the size of Germany, would be covered.

The area governed by the state is where most dredge dumping has occurred in the past.

The reef is at the heart of a campaign by green groups aiming to stop development of huge new coal mines planned by two Indian conglomerates, the Adani Group and GVK, and a port expansion to ship that coal.

Green groups said the proposed dumping bans by federal and state governments were a good start but did not go far enough because dredging for port expansions would still go ahead. "I almost feel like Greg Hunt is trying to come up with band-aid solutions, rather than trying to solve the problem,"said Jessica Panegyres, political adviser for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

Dredging sends up plumes of sand that can smother corals, damage seagrass and harm animal life.

The Queensland Resources Council warned that the bans could limit future port expansions. "We strongly believe that any blanket ban on capital dredge material in the entire World Heritage Area does not represent evidence-based policy and will not prove to be viable in the long term," the council said in a statement.