SYDNEY (Reuters) - Protesters from 12 South Pacific nations plan to block ships entering and leaving Australia's Port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal export terminal, this month to highlight effects they say climate change is having on their islands.

Some experts say climate change will cause higher tides that will swamp lower-lying Pacific islands and present other challenges such as coral bleaching and an increase in storms and cyclones.

A spokesman for the environmental activist group told Reuters the blockade by a flotilla of small boats on Oct. 17 would be peaceful and last a full day.

On Monday, a sole demonstrator from the Front Line Action on Coal group chained himself to a rail line leading to the port and disrupted shipments before being removed by police.

Millions of tonnes of coal mined from collieries owned by BHP Billiton Rio Tinto, Glencore and others pass through the port each year.

Newcastle handles more than 4,000 ship movements annually, more than 90 percent loaded with coal, according to the port.

"For over 20 years now Pacific islanders have been negotiating with little effect for countries like Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to stop coal, oil and gas exports," Koreti Tiumalu, Pacific coordinator for, said.

Known as "King Coal" in Australia, tens of thousands of workers are employed in collieries and whole towns rely on mines for their existence. More than half the world's steel-making coal, worth A$40 billion a year, comes from Australia.

China accounts for about a quarter of Australia's coal exports. It took 54 million tonnes of thermal coal and 30 million tonnes of metallurgical coal from Australia in 2013, industry figures show.

A spokeswoman for Newcastle Port declined immediate comment.


(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Nick Macfie)