Simulations showing that fine sediments from a proposed coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area could reach dugong and turtle strongholds is yet more proof the mine should be rejected, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.
The Clive Palmer-owned Central Queensland Coal project, planned for an area just 10km from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, has been with Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for approval for a year.
The new research, led by Antoine Saint-Amand from UCLouvain in Belgium, shows that small particles released near the mine site can reach dense seagrass meadows, the Clairview dugong sanctuary and sea turtle nesting beaches at Avoid Island to the north within a few weeks of being released. Fine sediments can smother seagrass and reduce food availability for dugongs and green turtles.
The scientists conclude in the paper that if the coal mine was to go ahead, ‘it could have far reaching impacts on the GBRWHA and its iconic marine species’.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “This research provides further evidence that there is too much at risk to allow CQC to build and operate an open cut coal mine so close to the Reef World Heritage Area.
“This research confirms that the Queensland Government’s EIS assessment released in late April 2021 was correct in saying the mine is ‘not suitable to proceed’ on environmental grounds. It also backs the conclusions of expert scientists appointed by the Federal government who warned in early 2021 they could not envisage any mitigation measures by CQC that could safeguard nearby environments.
“It is difficult to understand why Minister Ley did not reject the mine 12 months ago when it first landed on her desk. As we near the election, we call on all parties to follow the scientific advice, including from the Federal government’s own independent scientific expert panel, and reject this mine.
“Our Reef is currently suffering through its fourth mass bleaching event since 2016. These damaging bleaching events are driven by global heating which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels like coal. In this context, approving a mine that will only add to the heating stress and water pollution on our Reef would be an astonishingly bad decision for any government which wants to protect our global icon.”
Immediately downstream from the proposed mine, Broad Sound and surrounds is an area rich in marine life used by protected migratory species like the flatback turtle and the dugong, as well as species important for recreational and commercial fishing like barramundi and mud crabs. Important habitats like seagrasses, salt marshes and mangroves are also found there, acting as vital habitat for threatened species as well as drawing down carbon.
Key research findings:
- Results using the SLIM model to mimic currents and tides in Broad Sound suggest sediments smaller than 32 μm could reach dense seagrass meadows and a dugong sanctuary within a few weeks of release.
- The simulation released particles from areas inside and outside the Styx River (which is the body of water downstream from where the mine will be located).
- The strong tides and currents of Broad Sound will not quickly mix the sediments released by this project but may concentrate them where the most valuable ecosystems are located – along the western coastline of the bay, where seagrass meadows and the turtle nesting beaches on Avoid Island are found.
- The model showed a particle plume extending more than 35km away north from the river mouth into Broad Sound after only two weeks.
- The risk posed by the potential discharges is new information. It was not completely assessed by CQC in the Environmental Impact Statement submitted as part of the mine’s approval process.
About the mine:
- The CQC mine is an open cut coal mine proposed for the Styx basin approximately 130km northwest of Rockhampton in central Queensland.
- It is proposed it will produce 10 million tonnes of coal per year for around 19 years, creating 400 million tonnes of carbon pollution across its life span. By comparison, the whole of Australia emitted approximately 506 million tonnes of carbon pollution in 2020.