The expansion of the Abbott Point coal terminal will go ahead after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved an application to dispose of dredge spoil at a deepwater location near the port, last Friday.
Authority Chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern that the project had generated and shared with everyone a strong desire to ensure the Reef remains a great natural wonder into the future.
“This approval is in line with the agency’s view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports,” Dr Reichelt said.
“As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas.
“It’s important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds.”
Queensland Resource Council Chief Executive Michael Roche welcomed the decision saying the report outlines the significant progress made by Australia in the past 12 months to comprehensively deliver on the requests of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) concerning the management of the Reef.
‘The State Party Report again documents the real threats to the reef as being extreme weather events, the potential effects of climate change, the crown of thorns starfish infestations and nutrient and sediment run-off from land clearing and broad-scale agriculture,’ Mr Roche said.
General Manager for Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainable Use, Bruce Elliot said the stringent environmental conditions imposed on the dredge disposal would help protect biodiversity, heritage and social values of the multi-use Marine Park and ensure potential impacts of this activity are avoided, mitigated or offset.
“The Federal Environment Minister, as part of his approval conditions for this development, has required North Queensland Bulk Ports to identify alternate disposal sites within an identified investigation zone,” Mr Elliot said.
“We would support the use of an alternative site if it is found to be equal to or better in terms of environmental or heritage outcomes.”
Mr Elliot said the agency had fully considered and taken into account the Environment Minister’s approval, granted on 10 December 2013, of the capital dredging program and dredge disposal site for the Abbot Point terminal expansion, as well as community views and relevant scientific and technical reports.
“By granting this permit application with rigorous safeguards, we believe we are able to provide certainty to both the community and the proponent while seeking to ensure transparent and best practice environmental management of the project,” he said.
Forty-seven environmental conditions as well as the conditions already put in place by the Environment Minister, impose strict mitigation measures such as:
- measures to minimise impact on biodiversity, particularly coral
- a long-term water quality monitoring plan that extends five years after the disposal activity is completed
- a heritage management plan to protect the Catalina World War II aircraft wreck located in Abbot Bay
- offset measures for commercial fishers in the event of adverse impacts
- a requirement to prevent any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas beyond 20 kilometres from the disposal site
- environmental site supervision by a GBRMPA nominee
- establishment of an independent dredging and disposal technical advice panel and a management response group which will include community representatives.
The approved disposal site is located approximately 25 kilometres east-north-east of the port, while the investigation zone being assessed for alternative locations is located 20 to 30 kilometres from the area being dredged.
Dr Megan Saunders, Marine Ecologist at University of Queensland said she was concerned at what the decision would mean for the Reef.
“There are major concerns about the policies that inform the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) that was used to guide the approval of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, leading to dredging and dredge spoil dumping. The Environmental Offsets Policy incorporates principles developed for land-based ecosystems and could fail to protect coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves.” Dr Saunders said.