A new report from the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) shows the disastrous impact Clive Palmer’s proposed Central Queensland Coal (CQC) mine could have on an area of the Great Barrier Reef known for its dugong and turtle strongholds.
The Marine Values report shows fine sediment from the mine, which is planned for an area only 10 km from the Reef World Heritage Area, could be carried by currents and tides to critical breeding and feeding areas of threatened dugongs and turtles.
In April 2021, the project was deemed ‘not suitable to proceed’ by the Queensland government and sat with former federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for a decision to approve or reject under Australia’s environmental laws for more than a year. AMCS urges new environment minister Tanya Plibersek to take heed of the science-backed warnings in this new report and finally reject the mine.
AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaigner Cherry Muddle said: “Our report shows 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. Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek must reject the mine on environmental and climate grounds.
“Broad Sound, just downstream from the proposed mine site, is an area rich in marine life, including species important for commercial and rec fishing like barramundi and mud crabs. Habitats like mangroves and seagrass are found there or nearby – these are key habitats for marine wildlife and important carbon sinks.
“Our report shows the tides and currents of Broad Sound could carry fine sediment released from the mine to these important habitats, smothering them, risking impacts on the protected migratory species that rely on them, like dugongs or flatback turtles.”
The tidal regime of Broad Sound was not assessed or quantified by the proponent in its Environmental Impact Statement.
Ms Muddle said the mine would also contribute to the climate crisis which is the biggest threat facing the Great Barrier Reef.
“Our Reef recently suffered through its fourth mass bleaching event since 2016, driven by a marine heatwave. If we want a future with the Reef in it we must rapidly move to 100% renewable energy. This means not approving any more coal mines, especially one like the CQC mine which may have damaging and irreversible consequences for the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
“In the wake of the State of the Environment report, which showed Australian inshore reefs were in a poor and deteriorating condition due to pressures caused by the burning of fossil fuels and water pollution, a coal mine proposed this close to the Reef is a really bad idea.”
The AMCS report follows on from published research which showed that small particles released near the mine could be carried by strong tides and currents to reach and settle on dense seagrass meadows in Clairview dugong sanctuary and sea turtle nesting beaches at Avoid Island within a few weeks of being released.
The Queensland Government’s EIS assessment released in late April 2021 concluded the mine was ‘not suitable to proceed’ due to ‘unacceptable risks’ to the Great Barrier Reef.
Expert scientists appointed by the Federal government warned in early 2021 the mine threatened to cause “significant and irreversible impacts” to the Reef.
Clive Palmer’s company Central Queensland Coal Pty Ltd is proposing to construct and operate an open cut coal mine 130 km northwest of Rockhampton, central Queensland. The company wants to extract up to 10 million tonnes of thermal and coking coal per annum (Mtpa), for approximately 20-25 years.
If approved, the Central Queensland Coal project would be located just 10 km upstream from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and is proposed in the Styx basin between Rockhampton and Mackay.
In 2020, the Australian Government appointed Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) handed down a damning assessment of CQC, citing “significant and irreversible impacts” to the Great Barrier Reef and other significant ecosystems.
On April 28 2021, the Queensland Department of Environment released its Assessment Report, which determined the project “not suitable to proceed” due to “unacceptable risks” to ecosystems, including a Dugong Sanctuary and Queensland’s largest declared Fish Habitat Area.
The former Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley then had 30 business days to make a decision on the mine. The Minister ‘paused the clock’ on the approval decision to seek more information from CQC on the proposal, also promising to make a trip to the mine site with Senator Pauline Hanson before making this decision.
The Defence Department has also raised concerns about the project, which FOI documents revealed would overlap a planned expansion of the strategic military training ground at the adjacent Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area intended for joint military exercises with Singapore in the future.