Great Barrier Reef Authority Approves Dredging and Dumping to Expand Port
Australian marine park authority grants approval with strict conditions in decision met with derision by conservation groups
by Bridie Jabour
photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, on Flickr
Three million cubic metres of sediment from dredging to expand a coal port will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, after the park authority approved the move on Friday.
The spoil resulting from the Abbot Point port project is to be dumped 24km away at a location near Bowen in north Queensland.
The expansion, which hinged on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's approval of the dumping, means an extra 70m tonnes of coal each year, worth between $1.4bn and $2.8bn, will go through the port, which is also a gateway to the world heritage-listed reef.
The authority granted approval with strict conditions on Friday afternoon.
The authority chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern the project had generated and shared with everyone a strong desire to ensure the reef remained a great natural wonder into the future.
"This approval is in line with the agency's view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports," Reichelt said.
"As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas.
"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds."
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation had applied to dump within the Great Barrier Reef marine park and, although the authority was asked to make a decision within 10 days of the environment minister, Greg Hunt, approving the project in December, it asked for an extension.
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation is also expected to come up with an alternative site that is also expected to be within the marine park.
The corporation has maintained flora and fauna are unlikely to be damaged by the dumping, with the water perhaps becoming cloudy for a short period of time, but the UN body Unesco is reviewing the decision.
The corporation says it would be more environmentally damaging to dump the spoil on land.
World Wildlife Fund Great Barrier Reef campaigner Richard Leck said it was a sad day for the reef and anyone who cared about its future.
"Federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to show leadership on this issue," he said. "Mr Hunt could have stopped the dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters instead he gave dumping the green light.
"The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations."
The committee is meeting in Doha in June when it might list the reef as world heritage in danger.
Greenpeace has previously said any dumping of spoil on the reef would be an "international embarrassment".
"We wouldn't throw rubbish on world heritage sites like the Grand Canyon or the Vatican City, so why would we dump on the reef?" said a spokeswoman, Louise Matthiesson.
"Scientists are clear that the potential impacts of dumping the dredge spoil so close to fringing reefs and the WWII Catalina plane wreck are significant."
Great Barrier Reef campaign director with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Felicity Wishart, said: "Most Australians will be shocked and angry at this decision by the marine park authority and minister Hunt to allow dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters.
"Across the board, people expect them to defend the reef, not approve its destruction."
Among 47 new environmental conditions imposed by the authority with the approval were:
- Measures to minimise impact on biodiversity, particularly coral.
- A long-term water quality monitoring plan extending five years after the disposal activity is completed.
- A heritage management plan to protect the Catalina second world war aircraft wreck in Abbot Bay.
- Offset measures for commercial fishing in the event of adverse impacts.
- The prevention of any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas 20 kilometres beyond the disposal site.
- Environmental site supervision by an authority nominee.
- The establishment of an independent dredging and disposal technical advice panel and a management response group, to include community representatives.