The government of Queensland in Australia has granted a mining license to an India-based mining company to dig the country's largest coal mine — a move that draws criticism amid a severe coral bleaching episode of the Great Barrier Reef.

Three licenses issued on April 3 by Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had allowed mining firm Adani to extract coal in the Galilee Basin of the state through a projected Carmichael coal mine.

The plan, estimated to lead to huge coal exports to India, will entail expanding an Abbot Point port adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef to accommodate greater traffic - something feared to release plumes from debris and soil over the reef and exacerbate its current ecosystem damage.

Environmentalists also warned against the consequences of mining and burning coal in the area, which will produce huge carbon dioxide emissions and worsen the current state of the reef.

In a statement, Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O'Shanassy calls the approval "grossly irresponsible" and warned that it will create millions of tons of pollution in the coming decades.

"By granting a license for this massive coal mine the Palaszczuk government is bowing to the demands of big polluters, not listening to the needs of the people," laments O'Shanassy, who cited the bleaching currently suffered by a thousand-kilometer reef stretch in the Barrier Reef due to extremely warm sea temperatures.

An aerial survey in March revealed that the northern region of the biggest reef system in the world is affected by the worst coral bleaching incident so far, affecting about 500 coral reefs spanning from Papua New Guinea to Cairns. A whopping 95 percent are considered severely bleached, with the bleak situation feared to endanger the Great Barrier Reef's world heritage status.

Dr. Steven Miles, environment minister of Queensland, pinpoints the need to "reduce as many pressures" on the reef system as possible. In this call that came five days after the government issued the mining licenses, Miles dubbed the latest bleaching event a "wake-up call" from climate change.

Miles calls for reducing emissions and ensuring clean water for the corals to minimize stress on the reef, which is a massive economic and tourism draw bringing in $6 billion to the Queensland economy and supporting 70,000 jobs.

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters implies that Miles' statement is contrary to the reality that the Carmichael mine will bring about.

"[It] would generate 4.7 billion tonnes of climate pollution and requires mass dredging on the reef's coastline which will worsen water quality and rip up seagrass beds," she says in a Sydney Morning Herald report.

Photo: Paul Toogood | Flickr

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