Ex-Great Barrier Reef official criticises spoil dredging
Environmentalists and some scientists say dredge spoil will harm the Great Barrier Reef.
A former senior director with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has spoken out against the department’s decision to allow dredge spoil to be dumped in the marine park off Abbot Point.
Earlier this year the authority issued a permit for North Queensland Bulk Ports to dump three million cubic metres of dredged seabed offshore as part of a project to turn Abbot Point into one of the world’s biggest coal ports.
The decision followed Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the expansion.
Environmentalists and some scientists say the dredge spoil will harm the reef, while the federal government says developers must adhere to strict environmental conditions.
Jon Day, a former GBRMPA senior director, opposes the decision and the way it was made.
“I believe there were alternatives that weren’t properly considered when that decision was made,” he told ABC’s Four Corners which aired on Monday night.
“If we did a proper evaluation of all the alternatives, that decision would not have been made.”
Mr Day, spent two decades with the authority before resigning this year, said the spoil shouldn’t be dumped within the marine park.
“Our own legislative mandate says ‘the long-term protection and conservation of the values’, and we’re not doing that,” he said.
Mr Hunt said his advice was that disposing the spoil was safe.
“I did a very careful and deep review and what was clear is that we could tighten and strengthen the conditions,” he told the ABC.
GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt said he doesn’t believe the project will harm the reef.
“The risks around Abbot are low and approvals were given on that basis that they are manageable,” he said.
Internal emails obtained under Freedom of Information reportedly show that up until January this year GBRMPA experts were against the proposal.
Mr Reichelt told the ABC he had encouraged staff to air their views.
“The project changed considerably over the life to something that at the end a decision was made taking all of that into account that that disposal could occur safely,” he said.
In June next year the World Heritage Committee will decide if the reef should go on its “in danger” list.
Monday 18th August 2014
Four Corners and reporter Marian Wilkinson take you inside the agency that approved one of the most contentious environmental decisions this year. In January, the body tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef approved a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredge spoil inside the marine park to expand the Abbot Point coal port.
The decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has shocked and angered the scientific community. Internal documents obtained by Four Corners reveal deep divisions between the scientists and bureaucrats behind the decision. They show that the dumping was approved despite previous recommendations from senior scientists that it be rejected.
“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard.” – Dr Charlie Veron, marine scientist
But the Chairman of the Marine Park Authority denies the decision was political and the Federal Environment Minister insists it will take place under the strictest environmental conditions.
Four Corners speaks to a senior director who recently left the Authority. He says bluntly that the dumping should not go ahead.
The dumping approval also comes as scientists are confirming a link between port dredging and deadly coral disease for the first time.
This week the Marine Park Authority released a report showing the Great Barrier Reef has significantly declined in just the last five years. It confirms climate change and ocean acidification are threatening the very survival of the reef.
It all comes at a critical moment in the reef’s history. In June, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee criticised the dumping decision. Next year it will decide whether to place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage “In Danger” list.
“We’re dealing with a World Heritage area, the most important World Heritage area on the planet… Our own legislative mandate says ‘the long-term protection and conservation of the values’, and we’re not doing that.” – former director, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
BATTLE FOR THE REEF, reported by Marian Wilkinson and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 18th August at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 19th August at 11.00am and 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview.
Tony Abbott has announced that the dredge spoil from Abbott Point will be disposed on land!!
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