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Originally published July 29 2013

Military drill goes awry when US fighter jets drop bombs on Australia's fragile Great Barrier Reef

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) A joint U.S. military exercise gone wrong has caused trouble Down Under after two Marine Corps jets recently dropped four bombs on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. According to reports, the two jets were supposed to bomb a nearby range on Townshend Island, but when the mission was suddenly aborted, pilots instead dropped the bombs, two inert and two unarmed, about 16 nautical miles south of Bell Cay in Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Earlier reports by BBC News explain that the two AV-8B Harriers carrying the bombs were running low on fuel during the exercise, which had been delayed due to hazards and other issues. Since the jets could not be landed safely with the unexploded ordnance still on board, its pilots had to instead release them elsewhere before landing, according to the U.S. Navy. So they picked a stretch of water in the fragile World Heritage Site off the coast of Queensland.

"It was not safe to drop the bombs," at the original intended location, claimed Commander William Marks of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to ABC Radio. "There were civilian boats right below them."

Since none of the four bombs were active, they did not explode upon impact and can still be safely retrieved from the park if necessary, say authorities. Weighing in at about 500 pounds each, the four bombs also apparently do not pose an environmental hazard, according to Commander Marks, who insisted to reporters that shipping and navigation routes will not be negatively altered by their presence.

U.S. Navy to recover 'harmless' bombs at request of Australian government

Still, the Navy did agree to recover the bombs if petitioned to do so by the Australian government. And according to new NBC News reports, this division of the armed forces is now doing just that, sending in its Seventh Fleet to take the plunge and recover them. Based on current assessments, the four bombs are currently sitting in 160 to 200 feet of water.

"We are fully committed to redressing any potential adverse environmental impact in a timely manner," stated the Navy in a formal announcement, adding that it will announce more details about the retrieval efforts as plans are finalized.

Following the announcement, some observers have voiced concerns about the Navy's reasoning behind dropping the bombs in this sensitive area rather than somewhere else. Others have pointed out that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is hardly the most appropriate region of the world to be conducting military exercises in the first place, as it is widely known to be a vital, living organism that sustains entire ecosystems.

The Great Barrier Reef, as you may already know, is considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It stretches more than 1,200 miles along the Australian coast from the town of Bundaberg near Brisbane in the south to the town of Port Douglas in the north. More than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays compose the Great Barrier Reef, in fact, and thousands of unique aquatic and bird species make their home there.

"It's simply not an appropriate place for war games," said Australian Green Party senator Larissa Waters to the U.K.'s Guardian. "It's outrageous there wasn't better safety with the boats involved, especially given that this area is a tourist Mecca. The Great Barrier Reef is already under huge pressure from mining, and now, it seems from U.S. bombs. It beggars belief really -- I thought at first that this was a joke."

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