New threats to Great Barrier Reef


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The last two weeks have made grim reading for the state of the Great Barrier Reef...

First comes news that plans have been made to dump millions of tonnes of potentially toxic waste in the marine park, followed by a Greenpeace report that by 2020 the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area will become a coal ship highway with at least one coal ship an hour passing through the reserve.

The Australian federal government has suggested to the park authorities that they raise money by charging a dumping fee for dredge spoil of between $5 and $15 per cubic metre. The proposal has enraged fishing and conservation groups, which have called it "pay to pollute" environmental vandalism.

An increase in mining has meant that there are proposed port expansions at Gladstone, Hay Point and Abbot Point. This in turn will result in not only increased shipping but also hundreds of millions of tonnes of dredge spoil that must be disposed of. Park authorities are being pressured to accept this for a handling fee which would then be used to contribute to the park’s long-term sustainable management.

Park managers are keen to emphasise that this is a last option. Marine park authority general manager Andrew Skeat said disposing of dredge material in the park was a "last option only".

"A proponent must demonstrate all alternative options have been fully explored, for example options of reuse or disposal on land," Mr Skeat said.

"All proposals are subject to a rigorous environmental impact permit assessment process."

Meanwhile, the UN World Heritage body (UNESCO) has called on the Australian and Queensland governments to explain how they plan to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef from the impact of the mining boom.

Greenpeace has used environmental impact statements from all the proposed coal projects in Queensland to estimate that the number of coal ships that pass through the reef will increase from about 1,700 to 10,150 by 2020.

"This is the equivalent of more than one ship departing port every hour of every day, 365 days a year," the report says.

It also adds that dredging to allow large ships to pass through will have widespread impacts on reef and marine wildlife and that the chance of accidents and oil spills is greatly enhanced. Since 1985 an average of two major shipping collisions or groundings have occurred in the reef each year.

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