Australia, which has until February 2015 to detail its plans to protect the Great Barrier Reef to Unesco, could persuade an India-backed mining consortium to ditch contentious plans to dump dredging waste at the biodiversity site.

This month, Australia's environment minister Greg Hunt will examine a plan that will see the consortium – India's Adani Group, and Australia's North Queensland Bulk Ports and GVK Hancock –suggest onshore dumping sites, reports said.

"There is an emerging option which I've said we'd welcome and consider on its merits. I can't put a time frame. It may be a month, it may be less, it may not occur. But we have encouraged and invited [another option]," Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Adani plans to mine coal for export at the enormous Carmichael mine in central Queensland.

Protecting the reef

A spokesman for the firm told The Guardian: "We've long said that disposal options will adhere to the best practice and the best science, based on advice from technical experts and approving authorities.

"We are committed to ensuring the best options are in place to ensure this project is achieved, together with the best possible environmental outcomes."

Hunt's remarks follow a report in the Australian Financial Review that says the government-approved marine dumping plan will be discarded to defuse the controversy over the damage it could cause to the 2,253km reef – a Unesco World Heritage Site located along Australia's east coast.

Environmental groups have said that the dumping of nearly 5 million tonnes of sediment dredged from the eastern seabed to expand the Abbot Point port to enable more coal exports, will damage the reef's ecosystem.