In a stunning development, the government of Queensland, Australia has approved plans to allow more than 1 million tons of industrial dredge from port maintenance to be dump in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is already facing a potential extinction if current climate trends continue as bleaching wipes out entire reefs. In 2016, the northern GBR saw more than 65% of coral die to a mass bleaching event that forever change the worlds largest living organism.
Just last week, scientists warned that if smothering sediment from flooding occurring on land reaches the reef, it may block out the sunlight, preventing algae growth that corals rely on to eat leading to more coral death.
Which brings us back to the approval today. One week after researchers warned of sediment problems, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has issued a permit allowing waste sludge to be dumped in the very same waters using a loophole to bypass strict dumping regulations in World Heritage park. The government was able to get around the loophole by arguing that the law doesn’t apply when the waste is residue from the ocean.
Now, 1 million tons of sediment scooped up from the seafloor during maintenance at the nearby Hay Point Harbor can be legally dumped in the ocean.
The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which operates the Hay Point Port, issued a statement saying they had worked closely with the Queensland government, undertaking a peer-reviewed 3-year study to ensure the risks to the environment are low (though not non-existent).
“Our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary, short-term impacts to benthic [bottom-dwelling] habitat possible,” it reads.
While they believe their research will have minimal impact, there is always the possibility that it is incorrect and the already very vulnerable reef system could potentially become severely impacted from this decision to dump.
The dredging is due to start in March and is set to last 40 days.
Last year, the Australian government pledged AUS$500 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef, listing large amounts of sediment and agricultural runoff as major threats to its survival