Quantcast

Australia Plans to Dump More Than 1 Million Tons of Sludge in Great Barrier Reef Waters

Oceans
Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef. Marco Brivio / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef faces yet "another nail in the coffin," Dr. Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton told BBC News Friday.

That is because the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has approved plans to dump one million tonnes (approximately 1.1 million U.S. tons) of sludge into the World Heritage Site. The decision comes in the same month that runoff from flooding in Queensland, Australia threatened to smother part of the reef and two years after the unique ecosystem was weakened by back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by climate change.


"If they are dumping it over the coral reef itself, it will have quite a devastating effect. The sludge is basically blanketing over the coral," Boxall explained.

GBRMPA issued a permit on Jan. 29 for North Queensland Bulk Ports to dump maintenance dredge sludge within the park's boundaries, The Guardian reported. In doing so, it exploited a loophole in a 2015 law meant to protect the reef. The law banned capital dredging, but said nothing about port maintenance, the process of removing sediment that builds up in shipping lanes. The permit would allow maintenance dredging and dumping over 10 years at Mackay's Hay Point port, which BBC News said was one of the world's largest coal export sites.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters argued the permit should be overturned.

"The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently," Waters told The Guardian. "One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip."

North Queensland Bulk Ports defended the decision in a statement reported by The Guardian:

"Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively," the ports authority said. "Maintenance dredging involves relocating sediment which travels along the coast and accumulates over the years where our shipping operation occurs.

"Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary, short-term impacts to (bottom-dwelling) habitat possible.

"The permits allow for the long-term, sustainable management of maintenance dredging at the Port and will safeguard the efficient operations of one of Australia's most critical trading ports."

But Waters said the initial ban showed that the government understood the risk posed to the reef, especially since 50 percent of its corals have died due to bleaching.

"Government policy needs to change to ban all offshore dumping, so GBRMPA is not allowed to permit the reef's waters to be used as a cheaper alternative to treating the sludge and disposing of it safely onshore," Waters told The Guardian.

Dr. Boxall told BBC News that the port could lessen the damage by dumping the sludge as far offshore as possible, but that it would still contaminate the water with dangerous materials like trace metals.

"If it's put into shallow water it will smother sea life," he said. "It's important they get it right. It'll cost more money but that's not the environment's problem—that's the port authorities' problem."

The "maintenance dredging" is set to begin in late March, according to The Guardian.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less