Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Who Pays the Real Price? Debate Rages over the Cost of Dredging near the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Who Pays the Real Price? Debate Rages over the Cost of Dredging near the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef

Article excerpt

Byline: WORDS Ebony Battersby

CASTING aside the agendas of politicians and activists, the true, long term implications of dredging spoil material along the Queensland coast are difficult to calculate.

Industry has breathed life into the once-quiet town of Gladstone, in the form of booming economic activity, employment and high-visibility wear.

The last time Gladstone Harbour was subject to dredging in 2011, leakage at the Fisherman's Landing bund wall cast a shadow over the entire project.

Gladstone Harbour was recently used as a case study presented by senior engineers Bill Service and Warren Hornsey to Griffith University students, as to what can go wrong in dredging operations.

Fish health and water quality were compromised during 2011 and although a direct link between leakage of sediment and heavy metals and aquatic health is yet to be confirmed, it is a substantial factor in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's decision whether or not to allow dredging.

Calls for an independent federal inquiry into the inadequacy of containing toxic substances within the bund wall are being echoed throughout the country.

The amount dredged during 2011 was enormous, as Dr Jim Stoddart, marine biologist working with various LNG projects around Australia, admits.

A total of 25million cubic metres (enough to fill 10 Olympic-size swimming pools) was removed from the waterways of our harbour.

By comparison, the Abbot Point expansion proposal, approved by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, is seeking to dredge 3million cum, under strict regulations - about an eighth of what was carried out in Gladstone.

Dr Stoddart agreed that when undertaking dredging, environmental damage to some degree was inevitable.

"Dredging is a high-impact activity, that cannot be carried out without some sort of footprint," he said.

"There will be some broken eggs, as seen in Gladstone."

Referring to the leakage of heavy metal sediment from Fisherman's Landing as a "broken egg" infuriated environmentalists.

"It's devastating news to millions of people around the world, when the Minister for the Environment, responsible for its stewardship, approves these projects," said Felicity Wishart, Great Barrier Reef campaign director.

"We've seen in Gladstone one of the worst examples of environmental management in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

"It was so poorly managed, that local fishers are still seeking compensation from the damage caused to their industry.

"And if recent revelations about the substandard work on the bund wall are true, it makes a mockery of environmental standards."

On the other side of the spectrum are mining advocates such as Viv Forbes, an applied science geologist and Fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, who says the robustness of corals is largely underestimated. …

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