On 23/07/2014 CAFNEC Marine Programs Coordinator Josh Coates gave evidence to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the management of the Great Barrier Reef, meeting in Townsville.
In giving evidence CAFNEC highlighted issues including:
- The impacts of the proposed Cairns Port dredging
- The need to protect the ‘healthy’ section of the reef North of Cooktown from emerging impacts.
- The need to improve broader reef management.
CAFNEC put forward the position that:
More studies on dredge spoil components and their individual, combined and cumulative impacts are needed prior to any more approvals. The provision of timely public access to information (including scientific studies) related to dredging and other coastal development impacts has to date been woeful. Massive improvement in this regard is necessary to contribute to restoration of public and international confidence in processes.
CAFNEC advocates a ban on new (non-maintenance) dredging and dumping in the World Heritage Area, effective immediately. Such a ban should not be withdrawn until conclusive evidence can be presented that the re-suspension of sediments from capital dredging programs can be undertaken with no impacts of World Heritage values. The use of offsets should not be an alternative; there has been no evidence of the benefits these provide. This ban should be implemented with a concurrent review of the impacts of maintenance dredging with a focus on implementing practices that lead to a drastic reduction in impacts.
The Senate Committee heard from leading scientists and the tourism industry who are very concerned about dredging and dumping in the GBR world heritage area. CAFNEC’s call for a ban on dredge spoil dumping was echoed by many of the scientists and community representatives who gave evidence.
Highlights on the day included:
- Evidence from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators including concern from operators regarding the decline of visibility (water quality) on the reef and the link to dredging, anger and dismay at the recent Abbot Point dredge spoil dumping decision and a statement that if the Cairns Port dredging proposal recommends offshore dumping “we will oppose it”.
- JCU Scientist Jon Brodie who pointed out that the success of the Reef Rescue program working to reduce agricultural and other runoff to the reef is put at risk by dredging proposals and clearly stated that recent research on dredging impacts shows that dredging does impact on corals and fish. Jon Brodie also gave evidence that dredge spoil is just as dangerous as land runoff for reef health, dispelling claims that dredge spoil is somehow less damaging than other reef pollution sources.
- JCU Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies stated that dumping and possibly all capital (new) dredging should be banned in the GBR World Heritage area. He also stated that crown of thorn starfish (COTS) are a symptom not a cause of coral reef degradation and that the claims by Ports Authorities of no impacts on corals from dredging are “untenable”. He went on to say that “tourism is the big loser in dredging proposals” and that unless ports governance issues (such as dredging) are addressed he believes UNESCO will next year list the reef as ‘World Heritage in danger’.
- It was also interesting to hear from the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Dr Russel Reichelt stating that there is no question that ports have an impact on the environment, saying that one just needs to look at the mudflats of Cairns to see the impacts.
Josh Coates said:
“It was heartening and inspiring to hear the evidence given from scientists and community regarding the impacts of dredging on the reef and the need to ban approvals for new dredging and dumping in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.”
“When leading Scientists such as Professor Terry Hughes call for a ban on dredge spoil dumping and possibly all new dredging along the GBR coast, it is time for our politicians to sit up and listen.”
“Chairman and Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Dr Russel Reichelt stated that there is no question that ports have an impact on the environment, and even pointed to the Cairns mudflats and an example. This emphasises the need to reduce, not increase the pressures on Trinity Inlet and to not go ahead with the unnecessary Cairns Port dredging proposal.”