Environmentalists feel that the Great Barrier Reef is under attack from the coal industry, but recently it was literally under attack when a U.S. Navy training exercise went awry. Four bombs were dropped less than 200 feet from protected coral.

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Last week during a U.S. Navy training exercise, two aircraft unloaded four bombs near the Great Barrier Reef, naval officials announced.

The bombs were jettisoned because the aircraft began running out of fuel and would not have been able to land with the amount of ordnance on board. Fortunately the bombs avoided coral and none of them exploded. Two were disarmed before they were dropped and the other two were inert, CNN reported.

The AV-8B Harrier planes were part of a biennial joint U.S. and Australian military training exercise called Talisman Saber that first took place in 2005 following two years of planning.

From the start, the exercise has been seen by the two nations as a way to strengthen their bond and increase interoperability. Initially the goal last week was to hit targets on a nearby island. While the ordnance missed the coral, it still fell in the Great Barrier Reef UN World Heritage area.

The accident quickly drew ire. “Have we gone completely mad?” Greens Senator Larissa Waters told the Australia Broadcast Corporation. “Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”

To be fair, this wasn’t just a U.S. Navy operation. There’s enough blame to go around. The better question would be, Who thought doing military exercises near the Reef was a smart idea?

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Now the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are working on an investigation with Australian authorities into what happened, according to CBS News. They also have to figure out how to retrieve the bombs from the deep area where they fell.

The irony is that this ordnance is a drop in the bucket compared to what proposed coal mines would do to the Great Barrier Reef.

Photo: A view of the Great Barrier Reef taken from an airplane on June 14. Credit: CameliaTWU.