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Dredge Report: Mining industry understates impact of dredging and dumping on Great Barrier Reef

Wed 7 May 2014

A new report has revealed that the impact of dredging and dumping in the Great Barrier Reef is much worse than the mining industry or state-owned ports have indicated, raising concerns over plans to dredge and dump more than 100 million tonnes in the Reef’s waters.

The report’s key findings include:

  • The World Heritage Area is under threat from unprecedented industrial development including seabed dredging,
  • Dredging eradicates seagrass and marine animals living in the dredge area,
  • Dredging creates plumes that cover vast distances often underestimated by industry,
  • There are plans to conduct a further 140 million tonnes of capital dredging in the Reef’s waters through port expansions at Gladstone, Mackay, Abbot Point, Townsville and Cairns, and
  • There are significant credibility issues with claims about limited dredging impacts at Hay Point.

Felicity Wishart, the Great Barrier Reef campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said no longer could the mining industry and the state government claim that dredging doesn’t cause the Reef damage.

“Claims that 8.3 million cubic metres of seabed dredged at Hay Point Port and dumped in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters in 2006 led to no significant or long term environmental impacts are not credible,” Ms Wishart said.

“The monitoring ceased six months after dredging stopped when corals were still covered in sediment and suffering with lesions.

“In the monitoring report, corals with dead patches were grouped together with coral that had no damage at all, obscuring the fact that these corals were damaged.

“Control sites were potentially compromised by dredge spoil. The inadequacy of monitoring at this site is deeply troubling and with so much more dredging and dumping planned for the Reef’s waters.

“The state government is both the owner and the overseer of these dredging projects, which means that it is essentially checking its own homework and giving itself top marks.

“This report highlights that the industrialisation of the Reef’s coast through expanded ports will continue to cause environmental damage to the Reef if it goes ahead,” said Ms Wishart.

Coral scientist Dr Selina Ward said the many flaws exposed in the Hay Point monitoring concerned her.

"There are issues with the design of the monitoring program. The sites that were monitored as ‘no impact sites’ were well within the range of the sediment plume so they were not 'no impact sites' after all. Consequently, the corals at these ‘no impact sites’ showed similar damage to those at the ‘impact sites’. Hence, the developers claim there was no impact of the dredging,” Dr Ward said.

“We know some corals had up to 60% coverage by sediment which would have been damaging for them.

“How did they cope into the future? We don’t know because the monitoring stopped six months after the dredging.

“There are many methods for measuring coral health that weren’t used in the monitoring and as a scientist I question the results,” she said.

Media contact: Jane Garcia 0434 489 533

Download the report

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