Great Barrier Reef Bomb Drop: US Military Infuriates Environmentalists After Unloading Explosives Off Australia’s Coast [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 22, 2013 1:07 PM EDT

great-barrier-reef
A Great Barrier Reef bomb drop could put the delicate marine environment at risk. (Photo: Reuters)

A Great Barrier Reef bomb drop angered environmentalists after the U.S. military abandoned four unarmed explosives into Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park during a training mishap last week. The Detroit Free Press reports that two AV-8B Harrier jets jettisoned four bombs, including an unarmed laser-guided explosive, off the coast of Queensland state last Tuesday. The four bombs deployed during the Great Barrier Reef bomb drop weighed a total of 4,000 pounds and plummeted into more than 164 feet of water.

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The U.S. military was supposed to drop the bombs on the Townshend Island bombing range, but pulled away last minute after controllers warned there were hazards, including civilian vessels, in the area. The Great Barrier Reef bomb drop happened because the pilots were low on fuel and were unable to land with the bombs on board their planes. None of the bombs exploded.

"The jettison box was selected in a deep channel away from the reef to minimize the possibility of reef damage. However the inert and unexploded ordnance is inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area," a Navy official said. "The Navy knows full well how environmentally sensitive the Great Barrier Reef is, and will do everything to make this right."

According to CNN, the area where the pilots decided to make the Great Barrier Reef bomb drop was deep enough that passing ships would not run into the explosives.

Australia's Great barrier Reef Marine Park is a protected World Heritage Site teeming with marine life. The reef is home to some 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 kinds of mollusks, including many threatened and endangered animals. For this reason, the Great Barrier Reef bomb drop has infuriated environmentalists who say depositing bombs near the Great Barrier Reef is a poor way to treat one of our planet's natural wonders.

"Have we gone completely mad?" Australian senator Larissa Waters told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"

"How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real," Graeme Dunstan, an environmentalist, said from the Queensland coastal town of Yepoon near where the military exercise is taking place, according to Sky News.

One spokesman for the U.S. military fleet demurs, saying the Great Barrier Reef bomb drop has a negligible impact on the environment.

"It is a safe situation for the environment, for shipping, for navigation," Commander William Marks, spokesman for the 7th Fleet, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Great Barrier Reef faces a number of human threats. One of the biggest hazards are shipping accidents. Because of the high volume of ship vessel traffic in the area, the reef is prone to collisions and groundings which scar the delicate coral surface. Oil spills and overfishing are other major concerns regarding the sustainability of the coral reef.  

IBTimes reports on the Great Barrier Reef bomb incident in this video uploaded to YouTube:

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