Dredging waste: Scientific advice opposing the dumping of waste in the Great Barrier Reef was ignored. Photo: Bloomberg NewsThe federal government ignored scientific advice when the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredging waste from a mining project into the Great Barrier Reef was approved.
Documents released under freedom of information laws show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned that approval should not be granted for dumping sediment waste into the reef to make way for a coal project.
”The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic metres of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef,” the authority’s own report reads.
Under the proposal, the seabed would be dredged to create berths for six coal ships for the Abbot Point coal port expansion. The dredged waste would then be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef.
The report’s author warned particularly of the effects on seagrass meadows and coral reefs.
And yet the chairman of the authority, Russell Reichelt, approved the dumpings late last year.
”The approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds,” he said in January.
Queensland campaigner for Greenpeace Louise Mathieson said though it may be true the immediate disposal area has no seagrass, muddy plumes can spread for up to 80 kilometres. ”I think the chairman was downplaying the impact of dredging and dumping,” she said. ”What he said does not reflect the expert advice that was coming from staff about the real impacts the project could have, especially the risks to water quality.”
In its dredging permit assessment, the authority states that seagrass in the vicinity of the dredging activity is likely to be affected by the dumping, primarily by reduced light and increased water sediment.
”Coral reefs around Holbourne Island, Nares Rock, Camp Reef, Horseshoe Bay and Cape Upstart also have the potential to be affected by turbid plumes and sedimentation,” the assessment said.
The original application from North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation sought approval to dredge and dump 3 million cubic metres of spoil in the reef waters as part of coal terminal expansion plans at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.
Former federal environment minister Mark Butler extended the deadline for a decision on the application twice last year before the federal election.
Ms Mathieson said whilst these documents go some way in suggesting why a decision was delayed several times under Labor, they do not explain the approval granted by Greg Hunt, the present minister. But Mr Hunt says the groundwork for backing the dumping plan was made by previous state and federal Labor governments.
”This was Labor’s project, announced by Anna Bligh as a massive expansion and then upgraded to a super-terminal with 38 million cubic metres of dredging,” he said. ”The final approval was one-twelfth of this at 3 million cubic metres … I was advised the proposal put forward for offshore disposal was the best option available.”
In a statement released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, chairman Russell Reichelt said the documents released are “preliminary working drafts which were never submitted to the delegate, the senior manager responsible for the GBRMPA’s decision”.
He said the draft permit assessment took place prior to the application of rigorous conditions, “the strictest ever imposed on an application of this type,” which included a requirement for North Queensland Bulk Ports to offset the amount of fine sediments released into the environment by 150 per cent.
Should prevailing conditions such as waves, wind and currents contribute to the displacement of sediment towards sensitive habitats, disposal is not to proceed.
In addition, the Authority included a requirement that a five-year water quality monitoring program is to be implemented in addition to real-time monitoring, a condition which Mr Reichelt says is the “longest ever required for such a program”.
“Without these robust conditions GBRMPA is likely to have said ‘no’ to the application,” he said.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.