by Jeni Bone
Bob Irwin, dad of the late and much-loved conservationist Steve Irwin, is urging Aussies to have their say about the Great Barrier Reef. Irwin, starring in a new series of TV ads running in the lead up to the UNESCO decision on the status of the Reef, states that the Reef is under threat from widespread, rapid and damaging set of industrial developments.
Bob defends the Reef
Imminent decisions from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee have spurred a global response, as thousands around the world express their concern at the Australian Government’s failure to protect key environmental areas
In meetings to be held this week in Doha, the World Heritage Committee will decide the fate of two of Australia’s most precious and iconic environments – Tasmania’s ancient forests and the Great Barrier Reef.
The Queensland Government is fast-tracking the dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seabed and rock in the Reef’s waters, and a near-doubling of bulk carriers cutting through the Reef.
The federal government is considering approval of these developments, including the world’s biggest coal port at Abbot Point, 50 km from the Whitsunday Islands.
Fight for the Reef is a partnership between WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).
Fight for the Reef is working with the Australian community to protect the Reef, the $6 billion tourism industry and the 60,000 jobs it supports.
According to the stats on the WWF and Fight for the Reef sites, over 35 million tonnes of seabed will be dredged and dumped in marine habitat.
Dredging is undertaken in coastal Reef waters so that large coal, gas and other bulk carriers can access ports.
There are plans to expand ports and build new mega ports right along the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Port of Gladstone is the fifth largest coal export terminal in the world and the largest multi-commodity port in Queensland. There are two coal terminals at Gladstone port: Barney Point Coal Terminal and RG Tanna Coal Terminal. Between the two terminals there are 30 huge stockpiles of coal, with a capacity to export 78 million tonnes per annum.
The Queensland Government approved a new coal port terminal on Wiggins Island, in Gladstone Harbour, and construction is underway. This will require 6.3 million tonnes of seafloor to be dredged and dumped.
As part of the expansion of the Port of Gladstone, the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) processing plants and terminals on Curtis Island has pushed ahead. Plans for a fourth processing plant are underway. The Western Basin Project has been approved to deepen channels and provide berthing facilities for these LNG plants on Curtis Island and the western side of the Port of Gladstone. So far dredging for this project has totalled over 15 million tonnes, with 4.4 million tonnes dumped on the East Banks spoil ground in the World Heritage Area.
Fitzroy Delta and Balaclava Island
The Mitchell Group have plans to build a new coal terminal adjacent to Raglan Creek, a 13 km rail line through the estuary, and a 3 km conveyor belt through floodplains. The project will have the capacity to export 22 million tonnes of coal per annum.
The Fitzroy Delta is listed as a Nationally Important Wetland and the mouth of the Fitzroy River is the largest river catchment feeding the Great Barrier Reef. This is the second largest catchment in Australia, spanning 142,536 km².
There are proposals to build a 35 million tonnes per annum coal export facility at Balaclava Island in the Fitzroy Delta. This will require large amounts of dredging and result in an additional 60 bulk carriers in the area per year.
Ships will queue and anchor in a 2 km diameter zone off the coast of Peak Island – a highly protected conservation zone.
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation Limited (NQBP) is proposing the construction of two coal port terminals at Dudgeon Point.
NQBP currently hold 1400 ha of land at Dudgeon Point. If the development is approved, the new coal terminals will have the capacity to export 180 million tonnes of coal per annum.
The proposed terminal will be large enough for super ships nearly 300 m long.
Plans for Abbot Point will make it the world’s largest coal port – less than 50 km from the Whitsunday Islands.
Three new major terminal expansions are proposed for Abbot Point and these are referred to as Terminal 0 (T0), Terminal 2 (T2) and Terminal 3 (T3).
Green turtles are known to nest on beaches adjacent to the proposed new coal terminals at Abbot Point. The waters between Abbot Point and the Whitsunday Islands are a humpback whale gathering area.
The port sits alongside the Caley Valley wetlands, one of the largest intact wetland systems between Townsville and Bowen.
Wongai – Cape York
A new mining proposal, Cape York’s first coal mine, is proposed to extract 1.5 million tonnes per annum of coking coal from the Laura Basin (north of Galilee Basin). This project has recently been given special development status by the Queensland Government. Wongai is 150 km north of Cooktown and near Cape Melville National Park and Princess Charlotte Bay.
The Port of Townsville is proposing a major expansion to provide more berths and landside facilities, deepen the existing channel and provide an outer harbour. This will result in another large dredging program that would see up to 6 million tonnes of dredge spoil dumped in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
According to its opponents, dredging is a huge threat to the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Seabed and rock is dug up and then dumped in the Reef’s waters. Fine sediments are thrown up into the water and drift for kilometres, ruining water quality and covering seagrass beds and coral.
Just in the past five years, 52 million tonnes have been dredged in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, a recent Senate Inquiry was told.
Many of the areas dredged are feeding and breeding grounds for turtles, dugongs and other sensitive species.
Information on the Fight For the Reef site states: 'Massive amounts of dredging combined with large floods can cause major problems such as happened in Gladstone Harbour when dead dugongs, turtles and diseased fish were found in the summer of 2010-11. Fishing was banned for weeks and locals still do not eat the seafood caught there.'
There are huge plans for more dredging along the Reef. Sixty million tonnes of seafloor will be torn up to facilitate more coal and gas ships, as well as four major ports to process them - one of them one of the largest in the world. Much of this dredged material will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Fight For the Reef
The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the industrialisation occurring on the Great Barrier Reef’s coastline.
Specifically, the campaign seeks to:
• Immediately implement a moratorium on approving new development until a sustainable development plan for the Great Barrier Reef is completed.
• Permanently prohibit new port developments outside existing, long-established major ports.
• Ensure no dredge material is dumped within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
• Improve existing industrial developments along the Reef’s coastline to ensure they operate at the world’s best practice standards.
• Limit ship numbers and anchorages and improve management to a level that ensures no impacts on the Reef.
• Invest considerable new funding in protecting and restoring key Reef ecosystems.
More at www.fightforthereef.org.au