Several massive resource projects have been approved on the Great Barrier Reef coast by the federal government including the dredging and dumping of spoil near the reef and a new coal export terminal.
Environmentalists have hit out at the decision, with the WWF and the Greens saying it further industrialises and threatens the world heritage protected icon.
The projects approved by Environment Minister Greg Hunt late on Tuesday include the dredging of 3 million cubic metres of spoil – which will be dumped in the reef’s waters – for the development of three coal export terminals at Abbot Point.
Mr Hunt also approved the building of a new coal terminal at Abbot Point by Indian mining giant Adani.
Approval was also given to a new processing plant for coal seam gas on Curtis Island, which includes 1.4 million cubic metres of dredging at Port Curtis and the mouth of the Calliope River near Gladstone. A pipeline to the plant – being proposed by Arrow Energy – was also approved.
In making the decision Mr Hunt said he had imposed 148 strict environmental conditions on the Abbot Point and Curtis Island developments. They included conditions to ensure the water quality impact from the dumping of dredging spoil was offset. Mr Hunt said the offsets – which would stop sediments entering the Great Barrier Reef marine park from land sources such as farm runoff – would require an overall gain in water quality.
”It is important to note that each of these sites is already heavily industrialised and that the processes were highly advanced at the change of government,” Mr Hunt said.
”The conditions I have put in place for these projects will result in an improvement in water quality and strengthen the Australian government’s approach to meeting the challenges confronting the reef.”
Water quality is a significant problem for the Great Barrier Reef with increasing pollutants and nutrients resulting in damage to corals, sea grass and other important marine habitats. There is also emerging evidence that poor water quality can encourage populations of a damaging starfish know as crown of thorns that has plagued the reef.
The World Heritage Committee has also been alarmed by increasing development on the reef’s coast – with a number of major resource projects approved in recent years – and will consider in 2014 whether it should be placed on an ”in danger” list of world heritage sites.
Richard Leck from WWF said Mr Hunt had failed the reef and had turned his back on scientific evidence of the damage dredging would cause.
”Approving a massive amount of sediment to be dumped at a time when the reef’s health is so low, it really is against what the science tells us,” he said.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche welcomed the decision and said it confirmed that industry could co-exist with the reef.
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