THE chief authority for the Great Barrier Reef has approved the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredged spoil in the marine park, near Abbot Point north of Mackay.
A statement from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed the decision to allow the permit to dump the spoil about 25km north-east of the port, inside the marine park.
The decision has angered environmentalists, and has been welcomed by the coal industry, with the dredging to make way for an expansion of coal export facilities at the port.
GBRMPA chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern, but that the approval was in line with the agency's view that any port development should be within the bounds of existing ports.
"As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas," Dr Reichelt said.
"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds."
The authority said there were 47 new environmental conditions placed on the dumping of the spoil, in addition to many already placed on the project by Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
The approval is the final step in a long line of hurdles for proponents North Queensland Bulk Ports, which have endured several delays in decisions, partly due to the federal election campaign last year.
But environmental campaigners today hit out at the decision, with WWF Australia spokesman Richard Leck saying it was a "say day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future".
"The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations," he said.
"Committee members could decide at their June meeting in Doha to list the Reef as 'World Heritage in Danger."
However, the resources industry has welcomed the decision, which Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche, saying he was confident it was based on scientific evidence.
While the approved is within the marine park, Mr Roche said dredge sediment would not be deposited on the reef or other areas of high conservation identified by the authority.
"The minister has also imposed a cap of 1.3 million cubic metres of sediment that can be dredged or disposed of in a year and those activities can only be undertaken between 1 March and 30 June each year to protect water quality during critical times for seagrass growth and coral spawning," he said.
"The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon that must be protected and governments have rightly set the bar high to ensure that developments along the reef don't put it at risk."
The decision comes as the Federal Government prepares a report on its actions to protect the reef in the last 12 months, a key report which will feed into the World Heritage Committee's June meeting.
GBRMPA said among the conditions imposed on the offshore dumping were to minimise impacts on biodiversity and coral, a long-term water quality management plan and "environmental site supervision" by an authority employee.