Industrial Port Expansion
There are plans to expand several ports along the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef. Port expansion leads to dredging of the seafloor, an increase in ship traffic crossing the Reef, and a range of other impacts on the delicate coastal and marine environment of the World Heritage Area.
Current port expansion plans
Cairns – Ports North is proposing to dredge up to 4.4million cubic metres of seafloor to allow access for large cargo and cruise ships. There is concern that the spoil could be dumped on the East Trinity environmental reserve just across the harbour. More info.
Townsville – The Port of Townsville is proposing a major expansion to provide more berths and landside facilities, deepen the existing channel and create an outer harbour. This will require up to 6 million tonnes of dredging, with the spoil to be disposed of onshore and in land reclamation projects. More info.
Abbot Point – There are plans to build large coal export terminals at Abbot Point to ship out coal from new mega-mines in the Galilee Basin 400km inland. Adani’s Terminal Zero will be wedged between the Caley Valley wetlands and a turtle-nesting beach. It will require over 1 million cubic metres of dredging, with the spoil to be dumped in ponds beside the delicate wetlands. More info.
Hay Point – Hay Point is currently the largest existing coal port on the Reef, just south of Mackay. There are proposals for a trans-shipping project in the area which would see coal transferred from barges to coal tankers inside the Marine Park. The Queensland Government promised to ban transhipping in the Reef but this is yet to be implemented. More info
Gladstone – 3 new LNG gas terminals are nearing completion on Curtis Island in Gladstone Harbour. There are plans to dredge a second shipping channel to handle the increased ship traffic from these and other proposed developments. The new channel would require many millions of tonnes of dredging and could go right through a dugong habitat protection zone.
Impacts of dredging
Dredging is undertaken in coastal Reef waters so that large coal, gas and other bulk carriers can access ports.
Dredging for port expansions is a serious threat to the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Sand, clay and rock is dug up to make deeper channels for large ships. Fine sediments are thrown up into the water and can drift for over 100 kilometres, ruining water quality and smothering seagrass beds and coral.
Many of the areas that are dredged are feeding and breeding grounds for turtles, dugongs and other sensitive species.
In 2014, a world first study found dredging can more than double the level of coral disease, in particular white syndrome which causes coral tissues to fall off.
A major dredging and dumping operation in Gladstone Harbour in 2010-11 has been blamed for serious environmental problems after dead dugongs, turtles and diseased fish were found. Fishing was banned for weeks and the local fishing industry collapsed.
In 2015 the Australian and Queensland Governments responded to community pressure and banned the dumping of capital dredge spoil (ie from new industrial activity) in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Instead, the dredge spoil must be disposed of onshore.
Once an area has been dredged, it is vulnerable to clogging up with sediments from floods and storms, so it needs to be regularly re-dredged. This is known as maintenance dredging and the spoil from this activity can still be dumped at sea within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Maintenance dredging can add up to millions of tonnes of sediment.
Dredging for new port facilities is still allowed in four ‘priority ports’ (Townsville, Abbot Point, Mackay-Hay Point and Gladstone). Dredging for smaller projects like marinas or boat ramps can go ahead in most parts of the Reef coast.
Impacts of increased shipping
Currently, over 4,000 bulk carriers pass through the Great Barrier Reef each year.
Just one collision, one mistake or one spill could result in an environmental catastrophe in the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
When the massive coal carrier Shen Neng 1 crashed into the Reef in 2010 it left a 3 km scar and the coral has yet to grow back.
Not only do shipping accidents risk the Reef, they are terrible for tourism.
No one wants to see ship after ship when they have paid to come and see the natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.
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