Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Dump

On 31 January, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) issued a permit to allow the dumping of three million cubic metres of dredge waste into the waters of the Marine Park. The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation’s dredging operations, approved by federal environment minister Greg Hunt on 10 December last year, will be part of the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

Under GBRMPA legislation, dredging activities and the dumping of dredge spoil within the Marine Park are activities requiring environmental impact assessment and permitting. Within a week of issuing its approval, GBRMPA is already considering an alternative dumping location, calling into question the efficacy of its assessment process and approval decision.

The potential impacts of dredging and dumping activities include destruction of marine habitat, smothering of bottom-dwelling fauna and flora, and degradation of water quality all of which can have long-term effects on the ecology.

Acknowledged by GBRMPA as “a vitally important breeding ground for about 30 species of whales and dolphins”, the Great Barrier Reef is known to be the migratory pathway and breeding area for the humpback whale population that migrates annually along Australia’s east coast. For other species, like the dwarf minke whale, it is a permanent home.

Dozens of dolphin species occur in the reef as well. Some, such as bottlenose dolphins, Indo-pacific humpback dolphins and snubfin dolphins are inshore species. Only described by science in 2005, little is known about snubfins although their populations are thought to be small and isolated.

GBRMPA was quick to point out that its approval was subject to “strict environmental conditions”. One such condition is “a requirement to prevent any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas beyond 20 kilometres from the disposal site”. The inference here is that harm to environmental and other values within a 20 kilometre radius – an area greater than 1, 256 square kilometres – is permitted.

The North Queensland Conservation Council, with the assistance of the Environmental Defenders Office, is now looking at taking legal action against the Abbot Point decisions.


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