Great Barrier Reef Could Be In Danger Due To Proposed Sediment Dump
February 3, 2014

Despite Objections, Proposal To Dump Sediment In Great Barrier Reef Approved

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The Australian federal government has approved a proposal to dump three million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of sediment in the Great Barrier Reef, enraging conservationists who believe the move could threaten the world’s largest coral reef system.

According to CNN’s Euan McKirdy, the depositing of the dredged material comes as the result of a planned coal port expansion at Abbot Point on the coast of Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the protected region, gave final approval for the controversial proposal on Friday.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told Kristen Gelineau of the Associated Press (AP) that the approval was subject to “some of the strictest conditions in Australian history.” Numerous safeguards, including water quality measures and plant and animal protections, will be instituted to protect the World Heritage Site.

Even so, many are concerned that the region will be endangered as a result of the dredging, which is set to occur over a 455 acre area of the reef. Gelineau said that “outraged conservationists” believe the reef “will be gravely threatened by the dredging.” They feel that the sediment “will smother coral and seagrass, the increased shipping traffic will boost the risk of accidents, such as oil spills and collisions with delicate coral beds.”

Richard Leck, the Reef Campaign Director for WWF-Australia, told Brian Handwerk of National Geographic that the ruling will bring the Great Barrier Reef one step closer to earning a spot on the environmental group’s World Heritage “list of shame.”

This week, Leck’s organization and the Australian Marine Conservation Society distributed a government report card, blasting the decision to allow dredging to occur and accusing authorities of failing to follow UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) recommendations regarding the management of the area. Without those improvements, the WHC said the Great Barrier Reef could end up on its List of World Heritage in Danger by June.

In a statement, Bruce Elliot, general manager for the marine authority's biodiversity, conservation and sustainable use division, said that the safeguards accompanying the permit’s approval will help “ensure transparent and best practice environmental management of the project,” Gelineau said.

Likewise, in an interview conducted approximately a month ago, port corporation CEO Brad Fish said that the sediment had been tested and found to be contaminant free, adding that it was “natural sand and seabed materials… it's what's already there. We're just relocating it from one spot to another spot, in a like-per-like situation.”

However, Leck said he and his colleagues were “devastated” by the proposal’s approval.

“I think any Australian or anyone around the world who cares about the future of the reef is also devastated by this decision,” he said. “Exactly the wrong thing that you want to do when an ecosystem is suffering… is introduce another major threat to it – and that's what the marine park authority has allowed to happen today.”