The US Navy Accidentally Bombed the Great Barrier Reef... Sort Of

By Lily Newman on at

Okay so this whole thing isn't ideal, but it's also not as bad as it sounds. Basically on Tuesday there were two US Navy AV-8B Harrier fighter jets that had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard aircraft carrier and were doing a training exercise. They planned to drop bombs on Townshend Island bombing range in Australia, but were told by controllers that the area wasn't clear. The problem was that they didn't have enough fuel to land with such heavy loads. So they, you know, unloaded. Right onto the Barrier Reef.

Each fighter dropped an inert practice bomb and an unarmed laser-guided explosive bomb into 164 feet of water. The four bombs weighed in at about 4,000 pounds, but were intentionally dropped away from coral to reduce potential damage. Just to recap, they were inert or unarmed so they didn't cause any explosions. The practice mission was part of a three week, biennial joint training exercise involving 28,000 members of US and Australian military.

The damage appears to have been limited, but environmentalists and politicians are raising the alarm because there was so much potential for greater harm. Larissa Waters, an Australian senator who is involved with Great Barrier Reef conservation, gave the Australian Broadcasting Corp. a piece of her mind:

Have we gone completely mad? Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?

The US Navy says that it is working with the Marine Corps and Australian authorities to investigate the situation. To all the bivalves, clownfish and anemones out there: stay safe. [The Guardian]

Image credit: Sarah_Ackerman/FlickrCC