Oops! U.S. Navy Accidentally Bombs Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

The four unarmed bombs only add to the reef’s recent woes—yes, we’re looking at you, climate change.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef, as seen from a helicopter. (Photo: Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr)

Jul 22, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia just can’t catch a break.

Under constant assault from climate change, not to mention the occasional devastating shipwreck, the world’s largest reef took one to the chin last week when the U.S. Navy dropped four bombs just a few meters away from its terminally ill coral.

Yes, the bombing was an accident. And, yes, none of the bombs were armed—but, I mean, c’mon. If you’re the Great Barrier Reef these days, aren’t you a twitchy mess, constantly looking over your shoulder, always sleeping with one eye open and demanding that your bodyguards test your food?

Gawker has more on exactly WTF went wrong during joint training exercises involving 28,000 U.S. and Australian servicemen and women:

The pilots had intended to drop the bombs much further away from the reef, but after running low on fuel after an exercise mix-up, the pilots had to unload their bombs before landing.

For now, the four bombs, which weigh a total of 4,000 pounds, will remain on the sea floor, some 160 feet from the surface.

Both the U.S. and Australian Navy assure us that the bombs pose very little threat to either humans or the reef.

Really? What happens when—not if, but when—some hairbrained scuba diver accidentally blows himself up trying to take underwater selfies for his Tumbler? You don’t know the depths of stupidity to which bored twentysomethings will dive when seduced by the soul-sucking power of the Internet.

Future fictional incidents of stupidity aside, the accident isn’t sitting well with at least one outraged Australian lawmaker.

“I think it’s outrageous that we’re letting the U.S. military drop bombs on the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef,” said Senator Larissa Waters. “I mean 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 made up of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, stretching more than 1,600 miles along the Australian northeast coast. In October, researchers said that ocean acidification, which can be thought of as underwater climate change, had caused the reef to lose half of its coral in little more than a generation.