Grief for reef: Three million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the Abbot Point coal terminal will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Darren Jew Abbot Point coal terminal. Photo: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson
They are two of Australia’s most celebrated places of natural beauty, sitting at either end of the country. Both are world heritage protected. And in the eyes of conservationists both took significant blows on Friday.
In Australia’s north, a final permit was granted to allow the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredging sludge in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. In the south, the Abbott government confirmed it would seek to remove parts of Tasmania’s forest wilderness from the United Nations’ world heritage list.
In a long-awaited decision, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority allowed the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to dump three million cubic metres of dredge spoil in reef waters as part of its expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal, north of Bowen.
The plan had already been approved by federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, with environmental conditions, but the authority had the final say over whether the dredge spoil could be dumped in the marine park that protects the reef.
Authority chairman Dr Russell Reichelt gave the go-ahead on Friday afternoon, subject to a further 47 environmental conditions. Dr Reichelt acknowledged there had been significant community concern, but said the decision was in line with the authority’s view development on the reef should be kept to existing industrial areas.
“It’s important to note the sea floor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds,” he said.
The proposed dump site is 25 kilometres east-north-east of Abbot Point. As part of his approval, Mr Hunt also required the proponents to investigate an alternative site 20 to 30 kilometres from the area being dredged.
Environmentalists quickly hit out at the decision. WWF campaigner Richard Leck said: “This is a sad day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future.”
Mary Steele, senior manager, corporate relations at the Ports Corporation, said the authority had done a thorough job with the scientific evidence in front of it, and the environmental conditions set down were good.
Mr Hunt said the authority had made its decision independently. He said the government had acted to limit the impact of dredging and subjected it to the strictest environment conditions in Australian history.
”The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and protecting it for the future generations is vital,” Mr Hunt said.
The mining industry claims up to 25,000 jobs will ultimately be created, if the development of the coal terminal allows several other major developments to go ahead in Queensland’s coalfields.
The decision came as the federal and Queensland governments are due to deliver to the World Heritage Committee a progress report on how it is meeting UN recommendations to protect the reef on Saturday. The committee has threatened to put the reef on a list of world heritage sites considered ”in danger” unless sufficient progress is made.
In Tasmania, the Abbott government launched the first ever large-scale bid by Australia to axe world heritage protection.
The loss of 74,000 hectares from the world heritage area would fulfil an election commitment by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to reverse what he said was a ”rushed and political” decision by the previous government to extend the heritage area.
The government refused to release detailed maps of the target areas on Friday, but Environment Tasmania said the scale of the wind-back meant large swathes of old growth and rainforest had to be included.
No federal government has ever attempted such a large scale wind-back of world heritage protection, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said.
Greens leader Christine Milne said: ”Winding back world heritage protection will make us a global laughing stock.”
The 74,000 hectares represents more than half the forest previously outside national park protection that was included in the total 170,000 hectare extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness Area unanimously approved by the World Heritage Committee last June.
The federal government’s proposed changes had to be lodged with the World Heritage Committee by Saturday to go before its member nations at their meeting in June, in Doha, Qatar.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.