Great Barrier Reef coal port challenged

| 6th May 2014
A fragile paradise: the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Sam Harris /  University of Denver via Fotopedia.
A fragile paradise: the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Sam Harris / University of Denver via Fotopedia.
Australian environmentalists have launched a lawsuit against plans to expand a coal port that threatens the Great Barrier Reef, writes Maxine Newlands. The approval came in spite of warnings from UNESCO and marine scientists that the Reef is already 'in danger'.
The government is clearly happy to put mining ahead of all other interests, including the environment.

Environmental Defenders Office acting for the North Queensland Conservation Council (NQCC) returned to court today.

They have issued a legal challenge to the decision by Australia's Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, to expand the Abbot Point Port, 30 miles north of the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland.

Environmentalists claim plans to dump dredge spoil from port expansion into the Great Barrier Reef disregards the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, and the International agreement, the London Protocol (2006) on marine pollution.

World Heritage site endangered

The survival of the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, has been concerning UNESCO and environmentalists since 2012.

The Australian government response, The State Party Report on the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Australia) came in late 2013.

Days later, Environment Minister, Greg Hunt gave approval to expand Abbot Point Port from three to five berths. The expansion will make Abbot Point Port one of the world's largest coal ports, with an additional 70 million tonnes, with a value up to £1.5 billion, shipped through the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) also granted permission to dump three million cubic meters of dredge material 15 miles (25 kilometers) off the coast.

One hundred and forty six environmental conditions have been put in place, however many are seen to be immeasurable.

Governments must hear UNESCO concerns

North Queensland Conservation Council warns Hunt to listen to UNESCO's concerns. NQCC Coordinator Wendy Tubman says:

"The Federal and State governments need to take the threat to the reef and its World Heritage Status more seriously. The Minister needs to listen to UNESCO and the cumulative impacts on the reef of numerous developments and activities."

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia's first National Park, was granted World Heritage Status in 1981. It is the world's largest reef system, home to dugongs, turtles, whales, and unique corals.

Aquatic ecologist Dr. Jon Brodie of James Cook University says industrialisation and climate change represent a serious threat to the roeef ecosystem.

"Coral cover is in severe decline, sea grass has declined dramatically in the last few years, while numbers of megafauna including dugong, turtles, sharks and some dolphins have greatly reduced population numbers."

Australia's 'crony capitalism'

The legal challenge comes amidst accusations of cronyism with the mining industry:

  • QCoal corporate affairs chief, James MacKay is also Environmental Policy Advisor to the Queensland Government, and
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) directors, Tony Mooney and Jon Grayson remain executives at Gasfields Water and Waste Services, and Guildford Coal.

Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesperson, Felicity Wishart commented: "The government is clearly happy to put mining ahead of all other interests, including the environment."

Environmentalist NQCC and their supporters will return to court on May 23rd. Australia's government has until 2015 to answer UNESCO's concerns. 



Dr Maxine Newlands is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Education & Social Sciences School of Arts & Social Sciences of James Cook University. Her research focuses on environmental politics from emissions trading, carbon tax to environmentalism, activism, protest, social justice, journalistic practices and occasionally sportsmedia.

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