A cruise ship spilled thousands of gallons of liquid food waste in the Great Barrier Reef in August, according to an ongoing investigation by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority -- potentially damaging a reef already plagued by pollution and coral bleaching.
Carnival, which owns the P&O cruise ship, said the spill was unintentional and amounted to 7,000 liters (1,849 gallons). But Green Party Senator Larissa Waters and local media report the spill was 27,000 liters (7,133 gallons), citing an Australian Maritime Safety Authority report presented to the Senate. That amount is equivalent to more than 100 bathtubs full of waste water.
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The P&O ship spilled the polluted water on August 26, but authorities were not notified until two days later when Carnival self-reported the incident.
Australian authorities detained the ship when it returned to Sydney in early September, according to an Australian Maritime Safety Authority representative. Carnival had to pay a fine of about $1.5 million (2.1 million Australian dollars) to release the vessel.
"The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority takes pollution of the Marine Park seriously and works with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to ensure the best outcome for the Great Barrier Reef," said a park authority spokesperson in a statement.
The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is a protected park and World Heritage site. Stretching more than 1,800 miles along the Queensland coast, the reef is large enough to be seen from space and holds the world's largest collection of corals.
But scientists say the corals are on death row because of climate change and environmental damage -- prompting the Australian government to pledge almost $380 million for improving the water quality and restoring the reef this year.
"It took an anonymous tip off and my questioning in Senate Estimates today for details of a waste spill in the Great Barrier Reef by a cruise ship to be made public. Where is the transparency?!" Sen. Waters wrote in a Facebook post about the spill.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it is still investigating the spill, and that discharging pollutants in the reef is a serious offense.