What is the real cost of the United States bombing of the Great Barrier Reef? By Jeremy Goldberg
“I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?”
Robert Redford said that, and reading it again this morning made me think about the recent bombing incident along the Great Barrier Reef. By now, you’ve probably heard the story: As part of a joint military exercise with Australia, two American fighter jets take off from their ship, approach their target, and are basically told, “Stop! Don’t drop your bombs! There are civilians nearby!” In response, the jets attempt to make several approaches before they begin to run out of fuel, forcing them to drop four bombs (two inert BDU 45 practice bombs and two unarmed high-explosive GBU 12s laser-guided bombs) into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park before they land safely. Long story short, four American bombs now rest comfortably in about 160 feet of water, 19 miles from the nearest reef and about 30 miles from the Australian coastline. The impact on the marine environment is thought to be negligible, there are plans underway to figure out what to do about this situation and the bombs are deemed low risk by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the federal government department tasked with managing the Great Barrier Reef.
So, that’s the gist.
All in all, there’s nothing too incredible – a military exercise went wrong and a couple of unarmed bombs were dropped in the ocean to save lives. What is interesting is that this occurred along the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most beautiful, inspiring, amazing, special, stunning, incredibly important ecosystems on the planet.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for protecting the Great Barrier Reef both now and for future generations. This means that they have a fundamental right to help protect it from climate change, declining water quality, commercial and recreational fishing pressures, port expansions, shipping, coastal development, tourism, invasive species, floods, Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, agricultural runoff, and now, it seems, from bombs as well. It’s a big job and to do it the Australian government provides the Authority with about $50 million each year.
To put this in perspective, the Great Barrier Reef contributes about $6,000,000,000 to the Australian economy each year, most of this coming from tourism.
To put this in even greater perspective, the two American AV-8B Harrier jets that dropped the bombs on the Great Barrier Reef cost about $25 million each. The GBU bombs that were dropped cost about $19,000 each and I have no idea what the two BDU 45 practice bombs cost but let’s go cheap and say they’re only $10,000 apiece. That gives us a total of around $50 million dollars.
So, essentially, the amount of money that the American government spent on two airplanes and four bombs is equivalent to the amount of money the Australian government annually provides to the key agency responsible for managing a global treasure, protecting a $6 billion dollar asset, and preserving an important cultural icon for future generations.
Isn’t that interesting?
Furthermore, despite the considerable media attention this story is receiving, these bombs are not the biggest immediate concern to the GBR. In fact, in the big picture, these bombs are insignificant to the health of the Great Barrier Reef. There are many other far more pressing issues, including the ongoing and future impacts of climate change or coastal development. The proposed port development near Abbot Point, to use another example, includes the dredging of three million cubic metres of sediment. If my back of the envelope calculations are right, we’d need 15 million GBU 12s laser-guided bombs to fill in the hole that dredging creates.
So, yes, America dropped a few bombs on the Great Barrier Reef and everyone is talking about it. However, there are far more explosive stories around. We just need to know where to focus our attention.
About the Author: Jeremy Goldberg: I’ve been a coral reef manager, pizza maker, and forklift driver, but I’m currently a student and one half of Long Distance Love Bombs, a website/blog/movement that is trying to make the world better than it was yesterday. You can connect with me on the blog, Facebook and Pinterest.