The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation received permission to dump dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian government passed the proposal as part of the plan to expand the coral port at Abbott Park. Dumping mud and rock into the water at the Great Barrier Marine Park has sparked controversy, however.
The proposal is to dump 100 million cubic feet of dredged sand into the Great Barrier Reef Park. Greg Hunt, Federal Environment Minister, gave the project his approval in December 2013. The approval was given along with strict safeguards to protect the marine park.
Coal is one of Australia’s biggest exports and it is in demand in China and other Asian countries. A larger port could boost the town’s economy. Supporters of the plan point out that the expansion of the port could bring in as much as $28 billion related to coal exportation, an increase over more than 70 percent. The expanded port is expected to create a host of new jobs.
The project will be funded by Hancock Coal and two Indian companies, Adani Group and GVK. They plan to build three new terminals at the port. Expanding the port requires mud and rock to be dredged up from the seafloor.
One of the stipulations of the approval for dumping the mud and rock into the Great Reef Barrier Park is that it has to be dumped onto sandy seafloor over 15 feet from the shore. It may not be dumped onto coral reef or sea grass beads, according to marine park authority Chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt. All materials being dumped will be tested and must meet National Assessment Guidelines for Dredging.
The controversial proposal is opposed by Greenpeace and other environmental groups. Even though authorities state that the spoil will be dumped only on sandy areas, the water is capable of carrying the sediment away and spreading it into inhabited water. Their concern surrounds the coral, fish, jellyfish, sharks and whales that inhabit the 345,000 square kilometers of the Great Barrier Marine Park.
In addition to the drifting sediment that poses a choking hazard for the coral and it could endanger the fish and other animal life in the sea, the added number of ships in the area will also pose a threat.
Furthermore, the park was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1981 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.) Greenpeace is concerned about the ability for the park to maintain that status once the dumping takes place. They fear that following through on dumping dredged soil into the water will result in the organization putting the park on the danger list by the end of the year.
Compromising the marine park poses concerns for locals who depend on tourism as well. The Great Barrier Reef brings in $6.4 billion a year for Australia. If the reef was added to the endangered list it would diminish the area’s reputation as a natural wonderland and result in a decline in the number of visitors.
The dumping proposal passed with the caveat that a total of 47 restrictions are closely adhered to. Any drudge dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Park will be held to these standards to minimize the effects to the ecosystem.
By Tracy Rose