Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Documents Show Australia Ignored Expert Advice Against Dredge and Dump in Great Barrier Reef

Documents Show Australia Ignored Expert Advice Against Dredge and Dump in Great Barrier Reef

Last December the Australian Federal government gave the go-ahead to dredge and dump in the Great Barrier Reef. It did so despite strong, expert advice from the independent authority charged with protecting the reef that it was dangerous to the reef’s health.

Graphic courtesy of Greenpeace

Newly released internal documents clearly show that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority repeatedly advised the Environment Department to reject the controversial dredging and dumping proposal—which would allow the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port—because of the current health of the Great Barrier Reef and damage it would cause.

Greenpeace’s Investigations Unit has closely scrutinized a stack of briefing notes, draft approval documents and records of meetings released under Freedom of Information laws.

What we found is that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA):

  • was preparing to refuse permits to dump in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park because it considered the consequences of dredging were unknown and viable alternatives existed to dredging on the proposed scale.
  • assessed the water quality offset plan put forward to the Environment Minister as "unrealistic" and "unachievable."
  • considered dumping at sea would be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under international treaties on the prevention of marine pollution.

One very significant document prepared by GBRMPA notes:

The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic meters of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park … in particular seagrass meadows and nearby coral reefs …

The information … provided by the proponent does not adequately address the potential for further impacts to these recovering habitats. The dredge plume modeling provided by the proponent … has been found to be of limited value, deficient and unreliable.

Since the news broke, the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt and the GBRMPA have been desperately attempting to explain away why, at the end of the day, they gave the tick to this damaging development.

Photo courtesy of GetUp! Action for Australia

Both the Minister Hunt and the GBRMPA are clinging to the political life raft so often employed when projects are approved which risk harming the environment—a plea to not worry because "strict conditions" will protect the reef.

Minister Hunt, facing pressure from the community, looming court action and an economic environment in which companies are publicly withdrawing from risky coal projects, is keen on blaming past Labor governments.

GBRMPA is brushing off the significance of the FOI documents saying they were "preliminary working drafts," a sidestep which is blatantly disingenuous.

How does this explain minutes of a meeting between the Environment Department and GBRMPA in June 2013 to discuss the dredging application which GBRMPA’s Chairman Russell Reichelt attended?

The minutes show GBRMPA advised the Department of the Environment that it “did not consider it practical or feasible to develop offsets of the magnitude required” to produce a net environmental benefit from the project in its current form. Two ways forward were discussed: “[A]dopt a compromised option” (i.e. trestle extension with dredging of 500,000 m3 and land disposal)” or “[a]pprove the proposal with conditions which are effectively unachievable”.

The public deserves a clear explanation as to why the Minister and his department rejected GBRMPA expert advice. What other interests was the Minister considering which got in the way of what should be his priority—the health of this World Heritage jewel?

The smoker who continues to smoke despite medical advice they should stop is a tragic figure, but ultimately they are responsible for their health. The difference here is that the Great Barrier Reef is not itself able to reject or accept the rapid industrialization that is making it sick.

This power rests with the Minister for the Environment as the reef’s guardian. Right now it appears Minister Hunt is willing to accept illness and death of the Great Barrier Reef as his charge’s unhappy future.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth on April 2, 2012 in Western Australia. James D. Morgan / Getty Images News

By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge

In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A 3-hour special film by EarthxTV calls for protection of the Amazon and its indigenous populations. EarthxTV.org

To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.

Read More Show Less

Trending

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers a video speech at the high-level meeting of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 22, 2021. Xinhua / Zhang Cheng via Getty Images

By Anke Rasper

"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.

Read More Show Less
New Delhi's smog is particularly thick, increasing the risk of vehicle accidents. SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP via Getty Images

India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?

Read More Show Less
A bridge over the Delaware river connects New Hope, Pennsylvania with Lambertville, New Jersey. Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Read More Show Less