I found coal washed up on a beach on the Great Barrier Reef coast

15 March 2017

It was a Sunday morning in July, 2015, that I got a chance to board the Rainbow Warrior as a member and go on a guided tour of the vessel. When I was on the rubber dinghy on the way out to the boat I remember thinking, “I hope there is some type of an environmental emergency that the ship, the Rainbow Warrior would have to rush off to, with me still on board.”

~~ Guest blog by Lance Payne ~~

Little did I know that less than a few kilometres away there was an environmental emergency slowly ticking away.  A large amount of coal was slowly spreading from coal spillages of unknown origins, making its way like a big nebula around the ocean lagoon of the Great Barrier Reef.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was the beginning of a journey of a million words and a thousand emails, which is what it would take to even begin solving the problem. After I had worked in the environmental sector for many years, I started to do an environmental study into the urban street litter that washed up with each new tide. This was largely the result of Queensland not treating its storm water runoff. This meant that urban litter is just flushed into the ocean lagoon off the world’s largest coral reef, the iconic Great Barrier Reef.  

One day when I was on my walk along the beach in Mackay, Queensland, I noticed a rock unlike any other rock I had encountered before.  I crouched down and pondered, it was radiating with an out-of-place vibe. I retrieved it and then continued to saunter up the beach, fumbling the unknown rock in the palm of my hand.

A piece of coal washed up on a beach in Queensland

I encountered a fellow beach walker and asked the man if he knew what the rock was. His replied with one word that would later change my life. It was the one word which the environmental movement around the globe is transfixed on. “Coal,” he said, before he walked away, leaving me to think about the ramifications of his reply. Millions of thoughts began running amuck in my head, as mad as a kaleidoscope. Here I was on the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef, holding coal that had washed up.

So began the journey of millions of words in thousands of emails. I sent samples of coal to anyone and everyone. I photographed the hell out of everything. I kept notes and amassed samples, each with its own story to tell. Each day a new email was sent out, a new photo posted on Facebook and to anyone who I thought should hear about coal washing up onto the beach at east point Mackay.

Lance Payne

Lance on the beach in Mackay where he found coal washed up.

After months of endless messaging, I finally received a reply from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, “The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has commenced an investigation into the matters you have raised in your correspondence.” Then in February this year, my story received media attention from several different outlets. “That investigation has found one larger and one smaller source of coal spillage,” Dr Miles said. “But it’s not possible yet to say if [Hay Point] is the source of the coal that has washed up on those beaches.”

This just goes to show that one voice can make a difference. Once voice can make a change for the betterment of our earth.

~~ You can join Lance in making your voice heard by signing the petition to the Commonwealth Bank calling on them to stop funding new coal projects. ~~