Australia will ban companies from dumping waste in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, a victory for environmental groups that have long campaigned to protect the World Heritage-listed area.

The entire 345,000 square kilometer (133,200 square mile) park will be protected under the plan to stop the disposal of dredging waste, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Monday.

“Improving the Great Barrier Reef’s health and resilience requires governments and the community to work together,” Hunt said in a statement. The move will ensure the reef “remains one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth,” he said.

Environmental groups have campaigned against dredge dumping near the reef and last year lodged a legal challenge after North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp. was given the right to dispose of spoil from a coal port expansion at sea. Ports Australia said in a statement Monday the ban would threaten the nation’s economy and the long-term viability of ports in the northeastern state of Queensland.

The government has “allowed misguided activism aimed at closing down Australian coal exports” to influence policy, Ports Australia CEO David Anderson said.

The reef is home to more than 1,600 species of fish and is the largest living structure on the planet, according to the marine park authority. It is threatened by coastal development, ports and natural gas projects, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in a 2012 report. Tourists spent the equivalent of about 2 million days in the marine park in 2012.

Hunt’s announcement comes six months after the Queensland government approved a plan to stop dredging waste from the coal port expansion being dumped offshore.

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Photo Credit: Tourists explore the Great Barrier Reef. Paul Toogood / Flickr