Greenpeace said the move would be an “international embarrassment” and akin to “dumping rubbish in the Grand Canyon”.

The decision was made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

“After rigorous assessment, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved an application by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dispose of dredge spoil at a deepwater location offshore of Abbot Point, subject to strict environmental conditions,” it said in a statement.

Authority Chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern that the project had generated and shared with everyone a strong desire to ensure the Reef remains a great natural wonder into the future.

“This approval is in line with the agency’s view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports,” he said. “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.

“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 reef is already considered to be in “poor” health and faces pressures from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

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