Great Barrier Reef Sees Approval of Dredge Dumping Plan

OtE - Reef

The Great Barrier Reef. BBC World News/

Great Barrier Reef Sees Approval of Dredge Dumping Plan

By Nicole Halseth, News Editor

A project to dump dredged sediment in the Great Barrier Reef marine park has been approved by Australian authorities, as reported by the BBC. This approval is the latest step in a project which attempts to create one of the largest coal ports in the world, and was made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The approval comes despite warnings by scientists that the sediment dumped on the reef as a part of this dredging project could suffocate or poison coral.

Abbot Point in the northeastern part of Australia along the Queensland coast, where the dredging project will take place, has become very attractive to companies wishing to export coal from around Galilee Basin.

This approval follows the expansion of the coal terminal in Abbot Point last year, which was approved by the Australian government. This dredging would allow more ships to enter the port.

According to the BBC, the proposed dumping site is located around 25 kilometers out from the port in an area where there is reportedly no coral reefs or sea grass beds. This operation would also reportedly be subjected to strict environmental controls. The disposal site can be seen here:

Ote - Reef Map Image


Source: BBC World News/

According to Dr. Russell Reichelt, Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, this approval reflects “the agency’s view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports.” The Chairman also said that “as a deep water 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.”

This view is opposed by Greenpeace Reef Campaigner Louise Matthiesson, who in a statement, said “this go-ahead for dumping is one more body blow for the reef, which further threatens marine life, its World Heritage status and Australia’s tourism and fishing industries.”

Rich in biodiversity and the world’s largest coral structure, the Great Barrier Reef (stretching for more than 2,600 km along Australia’s east coast) could reportedly be listed as a World Heritage site in danger due to water quality in recent years, according to UNESCO.

It seems parallels can be drawn between this situation in Australia and our own situation in northern BC, in regards to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Both are examples of ancient and incredibly complex ecosystems being put at risk under the umbrella of economic development and progress. And the risks are certainly numerous. The Northern Gateway Pipeline could result in devastating oil spills, increased carbon emissions, and further disruption to vital ecosystems and habitats. Above and beyond the environmental impacts, there are numerous economic and social effects that may occur as a result of the pipeline, including disruptions to existing employment and non-oil related industry sectors, as well as the disruptions to the fishing and tourism economy due to the increase in pipeline and tanker traffic. There will also be various impacts to First Nations and other northern communities and peoples that may be exceedingly difficult to predict and measure. The threats that northern BC could see should the pipeline go forward mirror those that will affect Australia in regards to this dredge dumping plan.

The benefits of the pipeline project also closely mirror those of the Australian dredging project. Both would likely result in an increase, at least initially, of jobs, and both would result in a significant economic boost for each respective country.

It seems the economy versus environment debate is alive and well in our contemporary global context. The dichotomy so often represented here persists, despite ample evidence of how often economic and environmental concerns are intricately and irrevocably linked. This debate is further complicated by its often intangible, far-reaching, and impossible to quantify impacts, which are often difficult to reconcile with the current economic cost-benefit model, where variables must be quantified in numerical and monetary terms. Though we are seeing a push in recent years to bring alternative forms of measurement and assessment to the analysis of projects like these, the debate remains divisive and complex. In regards to both the Australian dredging plan and the Northern Gateway pipeline, we shall have to wait and see exactly how far the effects will reach.