Navy retrieves two bombs from Great Barrier Reef

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US Marines lift two inert bombs from seafloor. Source: US Navy

SARAH ROHWEDER

The US Navy has retrieved and disposed of two bombs dropped on the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year.

Four bombs were released from US warplanes after they ran critically low on fuel during a failed military exercise in July.

Two of the bombs did not contain explosive materials and the other two were missing their fusing devices.

The Navy decided to leave two of the inactive bombs on the reef after consulting authorities, saying they would pose no threat to the marine life or fellow divers.

Head of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Russell Reichelt said leaving the two remaining bombs under water would cause no harm to the reef’s immediate surroundings.

“We supported the US Navy’s decision to leave the inert rounds on the seafloor due to the challenging and potentially unsafe diving conditions — these devices are not actual ordnance and pose no risk to people or the environment,” he said.

“Our personnel will continue to monitor the area in the coming days for any potential impacts following the recovery and disposal part of the operation.”

The Navy had intended to drop the bombs in a pre-approved zone however civilian boats had occupied the waters making it unsafe for the drop.

An environmental perspective

With talks over the controversial mega port expansions still looming in the political arena, the dropping of four bombs has only raised further concern for environmentalists.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has been an active participant in the rehabilitation of the reef through various campaigns to generate public and government awareness.

Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Felicity Wishart told The Source News she was concerned over the potential impact the bombs would have on marine life if they were not retrieved.

“Our concern at the time was that given the current threats to the reef such as poor water quality, climate change and now these mega port expansions, the last thing the reef needed was military exercise and bombs dropping out of the sky,” Ms Wishart said.

“A colleague of mine was further south on the reef at the time and they said the aircrafts were creating such a big thumping noise that they could feel the vibrations in the water about 15kms away.

“There are many places in the world where the military can undertake these sorts of activities so we are not sure why it needed to be in a world heritage listed area.”

One of the most influential factors contributing to the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef is pollution and wastes dumped at sea.

According to the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 it is illegal to dump any manmade object in protected waters.

This has further alarmed environmentalists about the potential impact that the two remaining bombs may have on the reef if they are not recovered and disposed of.

Ms Wishart said the US Navy should have been made to retrieve all four bombs to reduce chances of marine damage.

“We have been assured the bombs were not live, but the dumping of materials still seems somewhat inconsistent with general environmental policies,” she said.

“However, what I find most extraordinary is that the US Navy can dump their rubbish on the reef and not have to clean it up.

“We spend a lot of time teaching the community how to clean up after themselves, so why do these guys get to dump their stuff and only half clean it?”

With the Federal Election fast approaching, questions about who will best take care of the Great Barrier Reef has been on the minds of many voters.

With Greens Leader Christine Milne having fully committed herself to the protection of the reef, it will be interesting to see if the major parties follow her lead.

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