An India-backed mining consortium could shelve controversial plans to dump dredging waste on the Great Barrier Reef, with alternative sites on land being considered amid growing environmental concerns, Australia said yesterday.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there was an "emerging option" that could see the consortium - comprising India's Adani Group and Australia's North Queensland Bulk Ports and GVK Hancock - submit a proposal suggesting onshore dumping locations.
"There is an emerging option which I've said we'd welcome and consider on its merits," Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"I can't put a time frame. It may be a month, it may be less, it may not occur. But we have encouraged and invited [another option]."
The minister's comments followed a report in The Australian Financial Review that the government-approved marine dumping plan would be abandoned to neutralise controversy over the possible damage it could cause to the World Heritage site.
Conservationists have said the dumping of three million cubic metres of material dredged from the seabed as part of a major coal port expansion at Abbot Point - on the Great Barrier Reef coast in Queensland - could hasten the natural wonder's demise.
The dredging, which was approved in January, will allow freighters to dock at Abbot Point, increasing the coal port's capacity by 70 per cent to make it one of the world's largest.
The Greens party, which has criticised the reef dumping proposal, said its approval should be revoked.
"Onshore disposal would be a far better option environmentally and for the tourism and fishing industries. However, the problems of increased shipping and export of coal to exacerbate climate change remain," Greens' environment spokesman Larissa Waters said.
Activist group Greenpeace "cautiously welcomed" the "good news".
"If the reports are true, the cheapest, most destructive option for expanding Abbot Point may have been taken off the table - but the threat from coal industry expansion plans is still urgent," spokesman Adam Walters said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said the dredging itself was a danger to the reef.