Abbot Pt. Photo: Greenpeace/Tom Jefferson
Marine tourism operators are threatening legal action against the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, or GBRMPA, over its decision to rubber-stamp a proposal allowing the dumping of dredging spoil inside the marine park.
Environment minister Greg Hunt had already given the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation approval to dredge the harbour at Abbot Point near Bowen, and that was signed off on yesterday by the GBRMPA.
Colin McKenzie, president of the Association of Marine Park Tour Operators – the peak industry lobby group covering tourism in the reef region – has told Fairfax Radio that his group may take legal action to stop the dumping.
The Great Barrier Reef
Mr McKenzie says it appears that the Authority members ‘have lost their marbles’.
“The final authority had to be issued by the Authority. They had the ability to say no. The principal objective of the act is to provide long term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and heritage value of the Great Barrier Reef region,” he said.
“Now how the hell can the organisation responsible for ensuring that act is adhered to then allow anybody to go and dump millions of tonnes of rubbish on the Barrier Reef every year? That is just ridiculous.”
Snorkelling on reef off Whitsunday island
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it has demanded a number of safeguards, including a limit on the amount of dredging spoil that can be dumped – but Mr McKenzie says the authority is pushing “a snowjob”.
“Leadership of the Authority needs to be replaced. If they won’t do their bloody job of preserving the environment out there then they should have people there that will.
“These guys are just pandering to the politicians. Politicians, if they want to change the act, should change the act. The GBRMPA should do what it is actually being paid to do – which is provide for the protection and conservation of the reef.
“When they talk about 1.3 million cubic metres (of dredging spoil), that’s actually 2.3 million tonnes of rubbish that will be dumped on the reef.
“We have, over the last four years, been able to reduce the silt going out onto the reef by 360,000 tonnes. And we’ve spent $ 200 million doing it. Now we are going to let a mining company go out there and dump 2.3 million tonnes every year.
“We are talking about a massive amount of siltation – and then we have the mining industry, through the Queensland Resource Council, come back and say ‘hey look, this is fantastic, we’ve stuck to the scientific facts’.
“Well, let me tell you, 220 scientists wrote to the GBRMPA saying ‘do not grant this’ because it will be bad for the reef. They [the Authority] are not looking at scientific fact, they are not looking at protection of the reef – they are just doing what their political masters want.”
Mr McKenzie denies that tourism operators and environmentalists are opposed to any expansion of the coal terminal at Abbot Point, saying his member support the miners.
“We as an industry think that there IS a need to be able to export that coal. We absolutely support the mining industry in being able to get it out there.
“They could have done this with ‘trellis’ construction that would not have required any dredging but they didn’t want to do that because it was a little bit more expensive.
“They’d rather dump their rubbish on us.”
The tourism industry boss says the real concern to his members is one of uncertainty, not knowing how badly the dumping is going to affect the Barrier Reef.
“My guess is that it is going to reduce visibility in the Whitsundays even further, it is going to seriously stress all the corals in the region.
“The Whitsundays is south of the dumping point they are talking about, and the main current on the reef runs north to south.
“We are really, really concerned about this. The jewel in the crown of tourism is the Whitsunday islands and here they are saying ‘let’s trash it’.”
Mr McKenzie has told Fairfax Radio that his group will continue to fight – and may take legal action if necessary.
“We will take it to [Environment minister Greg] Hunt, we will appeal this to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, we will take it to court if we have to. I think the GBRMPA is in breach of their own act and that will be how we are trying to challenge this,” he said.