Australian Senate Moves to Reverse Reef Dumping Approval

March 5, 2014 Updated: March 5, 2014

The Australian Senate has passed a motion calling for a reversal of approval for a coal port terminal that would allow dredge dumping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters moved a motion on March 3 that Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt revoke the government approval to extend the Abbot Point coal port.

Mr Hunt has already given approval for dredging at Abbot Point that will make it one of the world? largest coal terminals.

Last month the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the marine park over several years.

To put 3 million cubic metres into perspective, that amount of dredge soil would be enough to cover all of Port Phillip Bay in Victoria (an area of 1930 square miles), as well large swathes of the city and suburbs of Melbourne, with a 1.5m layer of sludge.

If the same 3 million cubic metres of dredge soil were dumped in Sydney Harbour – which has an area of 55 square kilometres with an average depth of 10 metres – the sludge would pile up to about 44 metres above the high water mark.

Senator Waters argues that new documents, obtained by Greenpeace, show that GBRMPA at first wanted to reject the plan to dump dredge spoil on a sand bed in the marine park, 25km from the port and 20km from the nearest coral reef.

“The Senate and the community are sending a strong message to the Abbott Government that dumping millions of tonnes of sludge in the Great Barrier Reef is unacceptable,” Senator Waters, the Greens’ environment spokeswoman, said.

“Minister Hunt has been telling us that the damage from the Abbot Point dumping can be offset but documents released under freedom of information this week show that’s simply not the case.

“The documents show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found that it would be impossible to offset the damage because it was too great.”

On March 4, Senator Waters’ motion passed with support from Labor and the Greens.

Bulk Ports, the dredging company, has said the dredging could cloud the water during a short period and may damage seagrass, but is unlikely to affect other flora and fauna.

They say dumping the spoil in the water will be less damaging to the environment than depositing it on land.

But green groups argue they’re opting to dump it at sea because it costs less. A draft report to the federal environment department from GBRMPA in June said the project had the potential to “cause long-term, irreversible harm” to areas of the marine park.

The authority also said dredge plume modelling provided by Bulk Ports was “of limited value, deficient and unreliable”.

GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt said those documents were preliminary working drafts and were never submitted.

“As such they do not represent the views of the agency,” he said. “It’s important to note that the draft permit assessment was conducted before stringent conditions… were put in place by the environment minister.”

Greenpeace campaigner Louise Matthiesson says the documents raise serious concerns.

She says although the documents cover only until August, Greenpeace isn’t aware of any significant changes to the project, which would justify a major change in GBRMPA’s stance.

The International World Heritage Committee has repeatedly expressed concern about the reef.

Following their investigations, the committee said the Australian Government must move to protect the Great Barrier Reef, or the site may be placed on the World Heritage in Danger List.

With AAP