SYDNEY, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Greenpeace activists have reportedly boarded a coal ship leaving Australia as part of a protest demanding an end to the expansion of coal exports that threaten the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
At sunrise Wednesday, six activists left the Rainbow Warrior on inflatable boats and drew up alongside the MV Meister - a ship carrying thermal coal loaded at Abbot point in Queensland.
Hoisting steel ladders across the coal carrier's starboard, they climbed the ship and are now encamped at the bow.
According to a spokesman, Greenpeace boarded the ship just after it left the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
The six activists come from five countries in the Asia Pacific region where Greenpeace is campaigning to end the age of coal: Australia, India, the U.S., China and New Zealand.
Australia's coal exports are the nation's greatest contribution to climate change and plans are underway to roughly double the volume of coal it export.
"Our scientists and political leaders have all said climate change is a problem that we must address now, yet our coal exports continue to grow," said Greenpeace senior climate campaigner Dr. Georgina Woods.
According to the Australian Institute of Marine Science, almost 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef's coral cover has disappeared over the last three decades and despite its World Heritage status, human activity lies at the heart of a problem that could see this extraordinary habitat disappear within our lifetime.
The myth that Australia's coal will reduce energy shortages and alleviate energy poverty for India's 300 million citizens needs to be broken, Greenpeace India campaigner Arpana Udupa said onboard the Rainbow Warrior.
"India needs to look beyond coal, and India's state of Bihar is showing the way by setting an ambitious target of connecting all households with electricity through decentralised renewable energy by 2015."
U.S. activist Harmony Lambert joined the action to highlight the global nature of both the industry and the threat, saying " The coal industry has directly impacted communities in the U.S. through mountaintop removal, coal pollution and dangerous waste storage sites, but the burning of coal is not just a local issue."
"Coal is the largest contributor to climate change around the world - both the United States and Australia needs to stop exports of this dangerous commodity."
One new coal terminal is under construction in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area; another was approved in October last year, and a third is seeking approval now.
"In the clear absence of political leadership to address this problem, Greenpeace is stepping in to take immediate and peaceful action. Australia's coal export boom cannot be allowed to continue,"Lambert said.
According to research commissioned by Greenpeace, Australia's coal export expansion is the second biggest of fourteen proposed fossil fuel enterprises that will push the world beyond agreed global warming limits.
"We cannot pretend Australia is playing its part to avoid dangerous climate change if these shipments continue."
According to marine expert Amy Wilks, the finely balanced reef is also at imminent risk from an array of threats including pollution, agricultural run-off, coral bleaching, over fishing, unsustainable tourism, shipping and coal development and of course, climate change.
Wilks told Xinhua, "Certainly the biggest impacts that we're most concerned about with our reefs is the impact from climate change. So climate change is having massive ramifications on the reef - warming ocean waters; acidification of the oceans which effect our corals and then you've got all the man-made influences from fishing pressures - our sharks are in decline worldwide and that impacts down the food chain as well."
Australia is the world's fourth-largest producer of coal and the world's biggest exporter. It is the march of this growing industry across the Queensland coast that has environmentalists anxious.
The coal export expansion planned for Queensland would threaten the Great Barrier Reef through dredging, coastal constructions and increased shipping. Moreover, coral reefs around the world are unlikely to survive if global temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees.
"Right now, we're heading decisively for four degrees of warming," said Dr. Woods. "If we want to save the Great Barrier Reef, it's time to end the of age of coal."