AUSTRALIANS HAVE EVERY RIGHT to be outraged right now. Our greatest marine park is to be used as a dump.
Three million cubic metres of sea bed will be ripped up at Abbot Point, north of Bowen, then transported and unloaded in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
First Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved this craziness, then today the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority issued a dumping permit.
I, along with the leaders of Australia’s other main conservation groups, believe GBRMPA has let down Australians who put their trust in it to protect the Reef.
It’s also true to say GBRMPA should never have been put in this position. Minister Hunt should have shown leadership and ruled out the dumping.
This is all happening because of a major expansion of the Abbot Point coal port. Do we really want the world’s biggest coal port just 50km from the holiday mecca of the Whitsunday Islands?
Three million cubic metres of dredge spoil is a big number — hard to put into perspective — so picture this: the waste would fill 150 thousand dump-trucks stretching, end to end, from Brisbane to Melbourne.
Minister Hunt has just ordered an inquiry into dredging in Gladstone where a containment dam leaked and dredge spoil was discharged back into the harbour. Some have linked that to the deaths of fish and other marine life.
Without knowing the full impacts of dredging in Gladstone how can he think it’s OK to dump millions more tonnes of this stuff into Reef waters?
The truth is he doesn’t. He recently did the right thing by stopping a proposal to dump 12 million cubic metres of spoil from Gladstone Harbour in Reef waters.
So why allow the Abbot Point dumping?
The United Nations has put us on notice that the Reef could be declared World Heritage in Danger.
In this day and age it doesn’t have to happen. In fact a report by GBRMPA showed their preferred option was to avoid the dredging and dumping at Abbot Point by building a longer jetty. Their second preference was for the dredge spoil to be disposed of on land.
Instead, what we got was the worst option.
Dredge spoil is not pristine white sand that just magically sinks to the bottom. It’s a mixture of sand, sediment and rock that’s best left undisturbed.
These days we know much more about the destructive impact of dredge spoil. New research shows the finer particles can be carried by winds and currents for up to 80 km. These particles cloud the water and block sunlight starving sea grass and coral. When they settle on a reef or sea grass they can literally smother it to death.
That’s not the end of the destruction either. Storms can resuspend these particles again and again extending their deadly legacy for years. In short, dredge spoil is nasty stuff.
There can be other problems. Churning up the sea floor and exposing it to air can release toxic substances normally locked away.
Other industries operating alongside the Reef — including farming, fishing and tourism — are adopting more sustainable practices so why is the resources sector stuck in the Dark Ages? Where is the leadership from this industry to stop old out-dated practices like using the Reef as a dump for their waste?
All this comes at a time when the United Nations has put us on notice that the Reef could be declared World Heritage in Danger.
Meanwhile, with the mining industry experiencing a downturn we don’t know if the port expansion will even be necessary.
Also, Minister Hunt’s approval includes a condition that fine sediment washing into Reef waters be reduced by 150%. It’s doubtful this is even possible in the same time frame as the proposed dredging and dumping.
Americans would not stand by if a huge cargo of waste was destined for the Grand Canyon.
The English would not allow dump trucks to unload in the waters of the Lake District.
These countries take pride in their role as custodians of such special places. Australians do too. Don’t just take it from me, polls show 91 per cent of Australians think protecting the Reef is important and three quarters of Queenslanders want a ban on dumping dredge waste in Reef waters.
A dumping permit from GBRMPA is not the end of the matter. Fired up Aussies can rest assured that the fight to stop this assault on the Reef is far from over.
When it comes to dumping on our national icon the message to the proponent is clear: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Dermot O’Gorman is chief executive officer of WWF- Australia.
Source: ABC Environment | WWF-Australia