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Australian Gov't Backs Great Barrier Reef Port Expansion

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

03 February 2014

The Australian Government has approved controversial plans to expand a coal port in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The applicant, North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP), manages the Port of Abbot Point, located approximately 25 kilometers north of Bowen on the central Queensland coast. The port has been in operation since 1984 and is primarily used for transporting coal. As part of the expansion project, NQBP will dredge approximately three million cubic meters from the seabed to deepen an area around six new ship berths.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, on January 31, 2014, approved the application, subject to strict environmental conditions. Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern that the project has generated and said he shares 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. 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," he stated.

"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."

The decision – condemned by scientists and conservationists – will reportedly boost Australia's mining sector significantly being worth several billion dollars for the nation's economy.

The Authority's General Manager for Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainable Use, Bruce Elliot, said the stringent environmental conditions imposed on the project ensure that any damage to the nearby area is avoided, mitigated, or offset.

Forty-seven environmental conditions have been agreed, including:

  • Measures to minimize the 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; and
  • Offset measures for commercial fishers in the event of adverse impacts.

TAGS: marine

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