Coral vs Coal: Great Barrier Reef Worth US$42 Billion, So Will Adani’s Coal Mine Move Forward?

According to a recent report, Australia’s “priceless” Great Barrier Reef does indeed have a price. One of the largest ecosystems in the world – and one of the most vulnerable to climate change – was valued at US$42 bn (or A$56 bn). It’s a lot of money – double the estimated worth of a proposed coal mine the opposition claims will surely kill the reef.

More than 64,000 explicit and implicit jobs depend on this World Heritage-listed resource. The Great Barrier Reef also contributes about $6.4 bn to Australia’s economy annually. The data comes from a report recently presented before the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. For perspective, the $42 bn quoted price could be used to build a dozen Sydney Opera Houses, 5 new rail services across the nation, and cover over 4 times the entire Great Wall of China in $100 bills.

RELATED: [Coral Bleaching: Barrier Reef Dying But Not Dead Yet]

Coal Mine vs Great Barrier Reef

According to the UN Agency UNESCO, climate change still is the No. 1 threat to the future of the coral reef. So why would anyone want to further endanger this monetary asset? Let’s look at the controversial mining project that environmentalists claim would increase the reef’s vulnerability to climate change.

Great Barrier Reef and diver


By comparison, the Carmichael coal mine – a project bearing the Adani logo – presents a value of about A$21.7 bn. This includes its connected infrastructure and the 10,000 explicit and implicit jobs the Indian miner forecasts for the business endeavor. Adani also expects the mine to generate about A$203 m in direct and indirect supplements during construction, as well as A$274 million in manufacturing.

The value of the reef clearly dwarfs the one of the coal mine. Yet, the federal government continues to support it. When asked about the situation, Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s Environment Minister, said the nation’s coal is cleaner than the one coming from other countries. Therefore, should the government stop the Adani project, someone else would simply occupy the vacancy and sell coal that would impact the environment in much worse ways. Not to mention the fact that Australia would essentially forgo billions of dollars’ worth of export revenue and thousands of jobs internally.

“It’s just a disturbing statement to hear from our federal environment minister,” ACF campaigner Basha Stasak said. “Our government seems to refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation. It’s a choice – it’s coal or it’s coral and we are going to have to pick.”

Great Barrier Reef Gets a Dollar Value

The authors of the report calculated the reef’s worth by using economic modelling. Therefore, this UNESCO site values about A$29bn to tourism and A$3.2bn to recreational visitors (including divers). The estimation also included brand value, worth around A$23.8bn. This indirect value refers to Australians who have never visited the reef, but they still value its existence. The report used data from a six-month study of economic and scientific sources. It also sourced information from a recent survey of over 1,500 people from 11 countries.

Last week, Charlie Veron, a previous chief scientist working with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, urged the government to invalidate the environmental approval for Adani’s coal mine. His request isn’t unusual, considering that coal mining is partly the reason why coral reefs die worldwide.

RELATED: [Barrier Reef Hit by Mass Bleaching Second Year in a Row]

Gambling our Future

Should coral reefs wipe out completely, humanity will soon follow. Why? Because the oceans’ ecologies will suffer, which means marine life will also hurt a lot. Other experts, including Prof Will Steffen, a climate scientist of the Climate Council, have joined their voices to Veron’s call.

“We’re gambling with this priceless global asset if we persevere with any new fossil fuel developments – and there’s no room for exceptions here,” Mr. Steffen said.

Aerial view of coral and turquoise waters at Hook and Hardy Reef. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

Aerial view of coral and turquoise waters at Hook and Hardy Reef. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia / Credit

Greenpeace disagrees with the report, saying it’s impossible to value global wonders in money. Nikola Casule, director of climate and energy campaign, explained that humanity has the moral responsibility to save the Australian Barrier Reef. If not for us, at least for generations to come.

In the end, the report’s message is rather clear. The Great Barrier Reef – as a global treasure, economic driver, and priceless ecosystem – simply cannot fail. Due to the fact that it is the largest and most complex living structure on Earth, the Australian reef is justly considered irreplaceable and priceless.

Coral Bleach Threat

Lead author of the report, John O’Mahony, said the results confirmed what environmentalists already knew. The Great Barrier Reef had “incredible value” in terms of biodiversity. It also boasts Australia’s reputation internationally and it creates thousands of jobs domestically. Why would anyone want to endanger such a national gem?

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Two-thirds of the reef have suffered through mass coral bleaching in consecutive years. Surveys in April showed the preserved site has experienced these consequent bleaching events mostly because of the rising ocean temperatures. In early June, UNESCO has also expressed its concerns regarding the bleaching, naming climate change as the most compelling threat. The only solution that might stop the damage is for Australia’s government to elevate water quality faster.

According to the Deloitte study, the reef provided jobs to about 64,000 people, 39,000 of which were immediate jobs. Therefore, the reef is a greater “employer” than National Australia Bank, the Qantas Group, Telstra, or the gas and oil extraction industry. Messing with such a massive “manager” is bound to affect the lives of thousands.

Adani’s multi-billion dollar coal mine is one of the largest thermal coal developments approved in Australia in recent years. Over the past few months, environmental organizations have warned the government against Adani’s development of the greenfield mine. Should it move forward, it would simply open the Galilee basin’s coal reserves to exploitation by even more companies.

In addition, excavating the basin’s coal reserves would emit about 700m tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually for more than half a century. The environment would suffer catastrophic and irreparable damage.

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Lindsey Andrews

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