Environment Column: Dredging Actions Inside The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

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WORDS | Emma Vlatko

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, on 11 December 2013, stated that he was “drawing a line in the sand,” when it came to dredging actions inside the Great Bar­rier Reef Marine Park.

But the line he’s drawn isn’t all too clear.

In the same press release, Minister Hunt announced his personal approval of the Abbot Point Coal terminal ex­pansion project. This expansion, which is not the first approved by an Australian government and one of four Minister Hunt has approved within the area, will make the Abbot Point Port one of the largest in the world.

To make this worse, on Friday 31 January 2014, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the three million cubic metres of dredge materials, requested in the expansion proposal, to be dumped within the World Heritage-listed marine park. This decision ignores concerns expressed by over 230 scientists, who wrote to the Authority urging them to reject the proposal.

However, the approval is not without limitations. Min­ister Hunt and the GBRMPA have together placed 142 environmental conditions on the development, includ­ing a 150 per cent net benefit, water quality require­ment; but a senior principal research officer at James Cook University, Jon Brodie, says this promise is ex­tremely unlikely to occur.

Dredging “will produce both acute turbidity and sedi­mentation effects on communities, such as seagrass and inshore coral reefs in the marine park”. Brodie joins a chorus of scientists who have labeled the practise of dredging as “outdated” and “destructive”.

Environmental groups have also expressed their criti­cism of the outcomes. Greenpeace have called the de­cision an “international embarrassment,” questioning why the GBRMPA would allow more potential dam­age at a time when the reef is already faced with pres­sure from climate change and land-based pollution. Similarly, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has warned the government that if it does not make sub­stantial progress the Great Barrier Reef could be listed as “World Heritage in Danger”.