Australia

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia port

Traditionally dressed representatives from South Pacific nations push their canoes into the water as they prepare to participate in a protest aimed at ships leaving the Newcastle coal port, located north of Sydney October 17, 2014. Image copyright Reuters

Hundreds of climate change protestors have attempted to disrupt shipments of coal from a port north of Sydney using their canoes, kayaks and surfboards to form a blockade.

The group included people from countries in the South Pacific who said they wanted to highlight the effects of climate change on their nations.

They said the burning of coal mined in Australia was causing sea levels to rise which will impact low-lying Pacific islands.

About 30 Pacific Climate Warriors, as they call themselves, took to the water in traditional canoes. They had come from countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tokelau.

Image copyright Reuters

A spokesman said rising sea levels had already forced islanders to abandon low-lying villages.

"We are not willing to drown because of climate change. We are trying to change the narrative from 'we are drowning' to 'we are not drowning, we are fighting'," Fijian activist George Nacewa told Reuters.

They were joined by hundreds of activists from the group 350.org and others on surfboards and kayaks.

Image copyright Reuters

The barricade at the entrance to the Port of Newcastle - the largest coal export port in the world - briefly interrupted ships heading to open waters, but no coal vessels were blocked.

Image copyright Reuters

Police escorted the demonstrators. There were no arrest though a number of the canoes were moved by police to make way for ships.

Image copyright Reuters

Australia is the worst polluter per head of population in the developed world. It is also the world's largest coal exporter, sending more than three quarters of what it mines to countries including Japan, China, India and Korea.

Milan Loeak, the 26-year-old daughter of the president of the Marshall Islands Chris Loeak, said plans to expand the Newcastle port were "definitely going to have an effect" on Pacific islands.

"We just want to share our stories and make sure that people are aware that the decisions that are being made over here are directly affecting our islands back home," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted her as saying.

In July, the conservative government repealed a tax aimed at forcing more than 300 of the nation's biggest polluters to pay for their carbon dioxide emissions.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said coal would be the world's main source of energy for decades to come, angering conservationists.

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