Photo: The Steve Irwin has turned from whaling to tackle coal shipping through the Great Barrier Reef. (ABC News: Dave Hudspeth)
Conservation group Sea Shepherd is training its sights on campaigning to stop Adani's Carmichael coal project but Federal MP George Christensen has criticised the move, saying the activists should "stick to what they know".Sea Shepherd, best known for its long-running battle with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, which it abandoned last year, this week sailed north for Abbot Point in north Queensland where the coal project is underway.
The group's managing director Jeff Hansen said the 12 stop trip aimed to draw international attention to the mine and to raise awareness about the "detrimental impacts it will have on the Great Barrier Reef".
"The reality is if this coal mine goes ahead, say goodbye to our Great Barrier Reef," Mr Hansen said."The mine puts at risk any chance of a liveable climate for our kids, it puts at risk 64,000 jobs that the reef supports, not to mention tens of thousands of jobs for farmers throughout the Galilee Basin.
"It doesn't stack up on any level — be that environmentally, be that in supporting the region in jobs."
'Supporting the mine would be un-Australian'Mr Hansen said the coal expansion would bring additional ships, noise and pollution to waters surrounding the reef, and would contribute to its die-off.
"Massive coal ships are going to go right through that area," he said.
"If this goes ahead, say goodbye to an Australian icon, she [the Great Barrier Reef] is sick, a third of her is already dead. It would just be un-Australian to support the project."
But local MP George Christensen has slammed the move, saying Sea Shepherd has joined a bandwagon of green groups against the mine.
Photo: Federal MP George Christensen said Sea Shepherd should stick to stopping whaling instead of "spouting … facts they've gotten from other green groups, which aren't facts". (ABC News)
He said claims the coal project would impact on the reef or environment were false.
"I think Sea Shepherd should continue their focus on chasing whalers and not chasing headlines," he said."The facts they're spouting are just facts they've gotten from other green groups, which aren't facts at all.
"There's going to be one extra coal ship coming into Abbot Point a week once they're at full production, and I understand that the passage at which they get to Abbot Point they're no closer than 40 kilometres away from the nearest reef.
"There's a lot of myth and a lot of spin going on, but those are the facts."
Election loomingSea Shepherd's flagship, the Steve Irwin, is due to dock at Abbot Point on Wednesday.
According to Mr Hansen, from the ten stops of the coastline tour so far, thousands have come along to support their Operation Reef Defence and to learn more about the mission.
He said he has been urging residents to take their concerns about the mine and the reef to the looming federal election.
"The Australian Government is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement and allowing this coal mine to go ahead will completely negate that," he said.
Photo: Members of the Sea Shepherd crew in Mackay, north Queensland. (ABC Tropical North: Tara Cassidy)
"It shows that Canberra is completely out of touch with the world and the passion and concerns of the Australian people and our farmers.
"We have a federal election coming up, so I've told people to go to their local members and ask what both Labour and Liberals and the other parties stance on the Adani coal mine is."
Supporting change in a mining townMackay resident Joleen Emerson said she had previously sat on the fence about coal mining, having several friends and family members that rely on the sector for work.
Photo: The mine will see massive coal ships traversing the Great Barrier Reef area. (AAP, file photo)
She said her mind changed when she heard about the Carmichael mine expansion, and it becoming Australia's largest mine, right alongside the nation's "best asset".
"It's an interesting topic because while down south or in other areas you might have more people against the mine, here in town it's quite divided," she said.
"You have so many people's livelihood that revolve around the mining industry and you hear convincing arguments from both sides of the park.
"I've always been a bit unsure … but what I do know is that coal mining leads to greenhouse gas emissions which is part of the reason that a third of the reef is already dead.
"I don't want to see what could happen if we open Australia's largest mine right alongside it. I just don't believe it won't have some negative impact."
No environmental impactMr Christensen disagreed, saying "I think the potential environmental threats that they're talking about are nonsense".
"There was one concern from tourism operators about having dredge spoil from the project placed at sea, and I was one of the people who changed tact on that politically and eventually we moved for that spoil to be placed on land," he said.
"That was the soul criteria that a lot of people were putting on it, in terms of their objection to the project. That was changed so now move on."
Mr Christensen said while Sea Shepherd and its supporters are entitled to their own views, he said he believed their efforts would not impact the mine going forward.
"It's interesting because there's a lot of screaming and shouting now after the fact, but Adani has just about every approval they need, bar one, which is a very minor one," he said.
"They've got every federal approval to go ahead, all they need to do now is complete their financial arrangements.
"All of the approvals have been delivered, we're not going to be changing them. There is no legal process to change an approval once it's given."And when it is started, not only is there going to be a lot more port jobs created, a lot more railway construction and operation jobs created, but opportunities for new jobs in the Mackay regions. Particularly in the mining services sector."