Mining dwarfs farming as threat to health of Great Barrier Reef, marine scientist warns –‘One more stress that could have been avoided’Posted by Jim at Saturday, December 14, 2013
By Bridie Smith
12 December 2013
(Sydney Morning Herald) – Mining poses a greater threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef than agriculture, according to one marine scientist who has cast doubt on the federal government's prediction that water quality will improve along the reef coast.
On Tuesday federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave the green light to dredging and dumping associated with four coal terminals, and the building of a liquid natural gas refinery and pipeline on the Great Barrier Reef coast.
Environmental conditions attached to the approval include an undertaking that water quality would improve by 150 per cent through a reduction in farm-related sediments flowing into the marine park.
But research scientist at James Cook University's Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, Jon Brodie, said mining activities presented a greater threat to the reef than agriculture.
''Farmers are going to be asked to save the reef when port authorities and climate change managers are doing nothing,'' he said.
Agricultural activity within the Great Barrier Reef catchment area such as beef grazing, sugar cane, cotton, and grain farming releases sediment, and chemical and fertiliser runoff. This is discharged from rivers into the sea.
However, Mr Brodie said the damage done from the expansion of ports, including dredging sediments known to be contaminated with heavy metals, could prove a greater threat to the health of the reef because - unlike runoff from agriculture - port development was going on without any transparent management of the risks.
The area off Abbot Point where 3 million cubic metres of seabed material will be dredged and dumped as part of the expansion of the coal terminal is near a range of marine habitats including coral reefs and seagrass meadows that provide shelter and food for fish, turtles and dugongs. Clear water is vital to reef health because cloudy water reduces the reach of sunlight that corals and seagrasses need for growth.
Mr Brodie said while the decision would not kill the reef by itself it was ''one more stress that could have been avoided''.
Australian Greens senator Larissa Waters used Wednesday's question time to ask how the environmental conditions would be enforced at Abbot Point, and who would guarantee 63,000 tourism-related jobs if the World Heritage Committee downgraded its assessment of the reef.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the conditions Mr Hunt imposed would improve water quality and protect the reef. ''We are actually making things better,'' he said. [more]