Australia has approved the dumping of one million tonnes of sludge near the Great Barrier Reef.
A permit granted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) means industrial dredge spoil, scooped up from the sea floor over the next 10 years during maintenance work at nearby Hay Point Port, can be discarded by the coral reef system.
According to The Guardian, sludge dumping in the area is largely illegal, but there’s a loophole in the federal laws as only capital dredging is banned, meaning the discarding of waste created during port maintenance work, designed to remove sediment from shipping lanes as it accumulates, isn’t subject to the ban.
As a result, the new permit could be granted legally.
Larissa Waters, a senator for The Greens party, has called for the permit to be revoked. Speaking to The Guardian, she expressed her disapproval for the plans.
Dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.
The backflip by state and federal Labor and Liberal governments several years ago, after sustained pressure from the Greens and the community, to ban offshore dumping from capital dredging shows they understand the damage this sludge can do to the marine environment – all the more so now that 50 per cent of the corals have died from successive bleaching.
Government policy needs to change to ban all offshore dumping, so GBRMPA is not allowed to permit the reef’s waters to be used as a cheaper alternative to treating the sludge and disposing of it safely onshore.
Shortly after the permit was issued, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which runs Hay Point, said the sediment has little negative environmental impact.
In a statement posted online, they wrote:
Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively.
Maintenance dredging involves relocating sediment which travels along the coast and accumulates over the years where our shipping operation occurs.
The statement continued:
Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary short-term impacts to [some bottom-dwelling] habitat possible.
The permits allow for the long-term sustainable management of maintenance dredging and will safeguard the efficient operations of one of Australia’s most critical trading ports.
Maintenance dredging is set to begin in late March, with the initial dredging taking about 40 days.
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