Australia approves controversial reef dredging

Abbot Point. Photo credit: Tom Jefferson / Greenpeace.
By Anders Lorenzen
 
As reported previously on this blog, the Australian government is aiming to build the world’s largest coal port in Abbot Point in Queensland, a move that would put the Great Barrier Reef, Australia’s most visited tourist attraction, at severe risk. This move was approved last Friday. In a statement by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), (a body within the Australian Government), confirmed that it has approved it: ‘’after rigorous assessment, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved an application by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dispose of dredge spoil at a deepwater location offshore of Abbot Point, subject to strict environmental conditions.’’
The new port, which will be an extension of the existing coal port Abbot Point, will require dredging of three million cubic metres of ocean sediment away from the area and dump it in the Great Barrier Reef National Park, 24 kilometres away. Once the extension is completed, Abbot Point will be the largest coal port in the world, seeing additional 70m tonnes of coal passing through there every year, worth an estimated $1.4bn – $2.8bn.
This development comes at a delicate time for Australia, which is currently suffering from record droughts and heatwaves, fuelling record bushfires which scientists says are due to climate change.
 
A Greenpeace action puts a gravestone on the sea floor of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: Dean Sewell / Greenpeace.
Unsurprisingly the decision has been criticised by environmental groups. The Greenpeace Australia Pacific are particularly vociferous in their reaction, saying: “It’s laughable for the Australian Government to claim they’re doing everything they can to protect the reef, when they have approved three mega-coal mines in the Galilee Basin, two rail-lines to transport the coal to the coast, three new coal and gas terminals and the dredging and dumping of 3 million cubic metres of seabed inside the World Heritage Area… No one wants to see the Reef listed as “in-danger” of losing its World Heritage Status – it would be a disaster for our tourism industry – but unless the Government starts to match words with action and stands up to the coal companies that want to exploit the reef, that is the way things seem to be heading.”
Greenpeace blames heavy lobbying by the coal industry for the approval of the dredging, singling out the Indian mining company Adani, which intends to construct the largest coal mine in Australia just 300 kilometres from Abbot Point.
Australian journalist Graham Readfearn is also critical of the project, on Friday he wrote in his Guardian blog Planet Oz: ‘’As I explained last year, scientific research on the reef suggests that it is already in danger from human-caused climate change and ocean acidification. Approving just two of the coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, which would push coal through the dredged area at Abbot Point, would add emissions equivalent to six times the annual carbon footprint of the UK.’’
GBRMPA stress that the Abbot Point extension is going ahead under strict conditions and they will closely monitor and inspect the project throughout its lifecycle. They insist that it is the best positioned coal port along the Great Barrier Reef to undertake expansion. General Manager for Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainable Use, Bruce Elliot, said in a recent statement that the stringent environmental conditions imposed on the dredge disposal would help ‘protect biodiversity, and ensure potential impacts of this activity are avoided, mitigated or offset’. Environmentalists are unlikely to agree and a Greenpeace Australia Pacific petition to protect the reef, has so far attracted 140.000 signatures.
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