Four unarmed bombs were dropped by two US fighter jets in Australia's World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef marine park after a training exercise went wrong. Any damage that could have been caused is unknown.
As if the Great Barrier Reef doesn't have enough problems, with nearly half of the reef deteriorating and collapsed over the last 30 years, now a failed training exercise could have caused so far unknown damage to the sensitive coral.
According to the US 7th Fleet, two AV-8B Harrier jets took off from the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard on Saturday. Each jet released an inert bomb and an unarmed explosive bomb off the coast of Queensland.
While none of the bombs exploded, the four bombs were dropped in more than 50 meters (164 feet) of water away from the coral. This is supposed to have minimized possible damage to the reef, according to the statement by the US Navy.
What caused the problem? Apparently the jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were originally told to drop the bombs at the Townshend Island bombing range. However, the original plan was aborted after the controllers said the area was not clear of hazards.
As the jets were low on fuel and not allowed to land with bombs on board, the pilots then proceeded with an emergency jettison of the bombs.
Now both the US Navy and Australian authorities are investigating the incident.
The failed mission took place on the second day of a biennial joint training exercise, Talisman Saber, that brings together 28,000 US and Australian military personnel over a period of three weeks.
According to environmentalist and anti-war activist, Graeme Dunstan, who is against this joint exercise, this only goes to prove that the US cannot be trusted to protect the environment.
“How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real,” Dunstan told the media from the Queensland coastal town of Yeppoon, near where the exercises are taking place.
An influential Greens spokeswoman on the Great Barrier Reef, Australian Senator Larissa Waters, described the dumping of bombs in such an environmentally sensitive area as "outrageous" and said this should not be allowed.
She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "Have we gone completely mad?"
"Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, made up of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
The reef stretches for more than 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles) along the Australian northeast coast.