WHALES and the coal industry are on a collision course according to Greenpeace.
Conservationists claim a study in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series raises serious concerns over the likely impact of the coal and gas rush on humpback whales.
A specific area of concern is the breeding and calving grounds offshore from Mackay.
Speaking to the Daily Mercury yesterday, Greenpeace campaigner John Hepburn said the humpback population was increasing by about 10% "and coal ship movements escalating annually".
He said it was only a matter of time before more whales were hit.
"This study reveals that humpback whales are literally on a collision course with the coal industry," Mr Hepburn said.
"We are talking about building a coal superhighway right through primary breeding grounds."
The study identified an area off the coast of Mackay as a likely breeding and calving ground, and an area off the coast of Gladstone as an important migration route.
Greenpeace claims industry plans will result in more than 10,000 ships slicing through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area every year - equivalent of more than one coal ship every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is planning the implementation of a comprehensive strategic assessment of the impacts of development on the Great Barrier Reef.
But Greenpeace claims Mr Burke has failed to rule out the approval of major new coastal developments during the assessment period.
Projects that could be approved include the world's biggest coal port at Abbot Pt.
"What's the point of doing the study if you are going approve everything in the study?" Mr Hepburn asked.
He said he feared for the vast numbers of humpback whales off Mackay during the calving months of July and August.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said environmental approvals have to be based on the best possible science.
"Issues affecting whales are considered in all federal environmental assessments in the Great Barrier Reef and I've already made clear that shipping movements are front of mind," he said.
A departmental spokeswoman said the Australian and Queensland governments were working together to undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.