Where's Captain Planet when you need him?
Australians on Sunday scrambled to ensure that a Chinese-owned bulk coal carrier that rammed into the Great Barrier Reef would not break apart and seriously damage the planet's largest coral reef.
Peter Garrett, the nation's environment protection minister, told reporters that the government was concerned about the effect an oil spill could have on the environmentally sensitive reef, one of the wonders of the natural world that was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Environmentalists said they were horrified at the possible damage the accident might cause to the ecosystem, which is more than 1,200 miles long and comprises more than 3,000 individual reefs, cays and islands, providing a habitat for countless sea species.
Coral reefs cover slightly less than 1% of the world's oceans, but are home to about 25% of all identified marine species.
Besides physical damage to the reef, the greatest threat from the cargo vessel comes from the roughly 300,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil it carries to run its engines.
Shipping companies favor such low-grade fuel because it's cheap. But it is also particularly viscous, almost like sludge, and needs to be heated before injected into engines. The gooey texture makes this class of fuel more ecologically troublesome and more difficult to clean up as it coats birds and other wildlife, corals and sandy beaches.
Video taken late Sunday showed the 700-plus-foot vessel stranded about nine miles outside the shipping lane, leaking what seemed to be a streak of oil into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park near Great Keppel Island off the east coast of Queensland state.
Great Keppel Island, about 340 miles north of Brisbane, has long been a major tourist destination on the Great Barrier Reef, which provides Australia a great source of national pride and tourist dollars.
It's like the plot from an environmentally-themed Superman movie. Only we're not in a movie and there's no simple solution to this problem that can be enacted by a super-strong spandex wearing man. Indeed, there's really no simple solution at all since we both need to protect the environment and- simultaneously- can't just quit fossil fuels cold turkey.
But even as we struggle to transition to safer forms of power (those of us who aren't morons, anyway) can we at least all agree that driving giant coal freighters past world ecological treasures is probably not a good idea?