The Australian government has approved a plan to dump close to 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil nearby Great Barrier Reef. Conservationists and scientists have opposed the plan stating that the dredged sand and mud will harm the delicate ecosystems around the region.
Abbot Point, the area just south of the reef is due for renovations to make it into one of the largest coal ports in the world. The multi-billion dollar project will bring large mining vessels to the area and this increased traffic could damage seagrass and the fragile coral. Spoil resulting from the dredging for the port will further hinder life on the reef, smothering sea plants and exposing the area to poisons lifted from the soil.
The expansion is proposed to reach the Galilee Basin, an area rich in coal that has already been the center of conservation controversy. The mine is connected to the port by a railway line that threatened local bird life and destroyed part of a nearby nature reserve. The area that was destroyed was used for bird migration research. Although some restrictions were imposed to protect the wildlife, plans went ahead despite environmental protest.
It seems the port expansion will follow a similar line. However the reef, which became a UNESCO Heritage spot in 1981, has a much larger following. The area brings in a number of tourists each year and tour operators are worried that the plan will spoil the region and decrease tourist numbers. They are threatening legal action over the plan. President of the Association of Marine Park Tour Operators Colin McKenzie has appealed to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) over the issue. GBRMPA are the protectors of the reef. They must consider how the action will affect the conservation, heritage and biodiversity of the region. As such, they have the final say on whether the dredging to go ahead. GBRMPA stated they have ordered a number of safeguards to protect the reef and limit the amount of dumping. However, safeguards in other heritage areas have proven ineffective due to sediment moving with currents and leaking into other areas. McKenzie has called the authority “ridiculous.” He claims that GBRMPA is siding with the mining community, rather than protecting the reef. McKenzie believes GBRMPA thus violates their own responsibility and should be tried in court.
Greenpeace has also spoken up in defence of the reef likening the proposed plan to dumping rubbish in the Grand Canyon, over the Vatican city or in other UNESCO heritage places. They have predicted the dumping will become an embarrassment to the Australian government. UNESCO themselves have not made a decision regarding the danger of the proposal.
Great Barrier Reef is about the size of Montana and home to countless species of fish, turtles, dolphins and coral with new species still being uncovered each year. Environmental factors such as climate change and pollution are already eroding the balance of life. Fishing and shipping have also intensified problems in the precious ecosystem. The proposed plan could spoil life on the reef further by upping the possibility of oil spills as well as the factors that occur due to dredge dumping.
By Sara Watson