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Australia approves dumping of 1 million tons of sludge near Great Barrier Reef

Ditching of industrial waste treats world heritage waters ‘like rubbish tip’, critics say

Colin Drury
Friday 22 February 2019 13:25 GMT
Great Barrier Reef at 'terminal stage' after latest coral bleaching data

More than one million tons of sludge are to be dumped close to the Great Barrier Reef after authorities in Australia approved plans to discard industrial dredge spoil.

Sediment scooped up from the sea floor during maintenance work at nearby Hay Point Port will be ditched under a permit granted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

“Dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip,” said Larissa Waters, a senator for The Greens party.

The plans have been approved barely a week after warnings that filthy water from recent floods in Queensland could cause irreparable damage to the reef by blocking sunlight and preventing photosynthesis which the coral relies on to survive.

Although sludge dumping in the area is largely illegal, a loophole in the ban – it does not cover the discarding of waste created during port maintenance work – means the new permit can be granted.

“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,” Ms Waters told The Guardian.

But North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which runs Hay Point, said such action caused little environmental damage.

“Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively,” the corporation said in a statement posted online. “Maintenance dredging involves relocating sediment which travels along the coast and accumulates over the years where our shipping operation occurs.

Under threat: the world's reef-building corals. Figures from (Independent)

“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.

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“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.”

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