Monday, 13 May 2013

UNESCO's latest warning on threats to Great Barrier Reef

I think it's good to have articles posted recently suggesting threats to our world icon  the Great Barrier Reef are grossly exaggerated, but here is the other side of the coin. Parts of the Reef no doubt are still healthy, other parts are obviously under threat, including the southern section off Gladstone and the World Heritage Area which includes all of Gladstone Harbour.
My article below as published on the Queensland Telegraph at  .

and  the Great Barrier Reef Blog at

The three massive LNG plants under construction on Curtis Island in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (construction much more advanced now).  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the effects on water quality in a once pristine waterway, and what was once hundreds of hectares of mangroves.

Heron Island, a popular international tourist destination off Gladstone.

Lack of report cards on Barrier Reef health a concern
ENVIRONMENTALISTS remain pessimistic that the Great Barrier Reef will be placed on the World Heritage Committee’s in danger list,  despite a new ultimatum to the State and Federal Governments to take prompt action to protect it.
In an interim report recently released, UNESCO gave both governments until next February to convince it that effective measures were being taken to halt new port developments and improve water quality.
Following major concerns raised in a delegates’ mission report last March, the international body said some progress had been made, but not enough to demonstrate that the Reef’s outstanding universal value  (OUV) was protected.
Coastal development and water quality issues in Gladstone were again highlighted, together with proposed development at Port Alma and Balaclava Island.
When the World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia next month, it is expected to adopt the new recommendation. This states that the Great Barrier Reef be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014,  ‘‘in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment’’ from the state and federal governments to take action.
UNESCO referred to a draft Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy released by the Queensland Government last October which proposed to prevent “significant” development outside existing port areas until 2022, but said this did not restrict development to existing footprints of individual ports.
“According to the strategy, development can occur in all areas identified in the land use plans for each port,” UNESCO said.
“The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports indicating that in recent years a number of port boundaries were extended significantly to include areas of significant habitat that contribute to OUV.
“They note that the Queensland Deputy Premier’s media release announcing the draft Port Strategy stated that future development would be possible ‘at several locations such as Balaclava Island and Port Alma in the Port of Gladstone’.
“They also note that both these locations are outside existing major port areas (40 to 50 km away from the port of Gladstone), in the relatively undeveloped Fitzroy River delta, and that there is currently no development on Balaclava Island that could justify its classification as an existing port area.”
It was also critical of the lack of promised annual “report cards” on the Reef, pointing out that so far only one had been published for 2009 as the baseline.
“…another key concern is the lack of clarity about whether the negative trend in water quality continues to be reduced and the positive signs of restoration are maintained, as annual water quality report cards have not been published as predicted. They recommend that the  (World Heritage) Committee urge the State Party to confirm a clear financial commitment by the Australian Government to maintain the Reef Rescue program as a matter of urgency…”
In response, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke claimed the government had already taken steps and would work with the WHC to protect the value of the reef.
‘‘It’s one of the most precious places on earth,’’ he said.
‘‘Some of the recent announcements have not yet been incorporated into today’s  (UNESCO) report, such as a $200 million commitment to the next stage of Reef Rescue.’’
But according to Save the Reef spokesman Dr Andrew Jerimijenko, that was not nearly enough.  He told the Telegraph:
“It is like getting a butterfly net to stop a plague of locusts.  It is not going to bring back the 50 percent of coral already lost, it is not going to even stop us losing the next 50 percent in 10 years.
“ We need something like the $12 billion given to save the Murray River.
“The Crown of Thorns is being driven by sediment (dredge spoil feeds them).  He has to stop industry using the Great Barrier Reef as a dump.  He has to stop approving the industrialisation of the Reef, and he has to do this in less than four months, because I can’t see (Opposition Environment spokesman) Greg Hunt being any better.
“If I were a betting man I would put money on a 2014 In Danger listing”.
Australians for Animals coordinator Sue Arnold  said the UNESCO warning indicated “the same old story”.
“Both the state and federal governments will allow the GBR World Heritage Area to be destroyed in the name of economic development.
“Gillard’s government is the most anti-environmental government in the history of this country, only equalled by the crap coming out of the Newman ministers,” she claimed.
However, Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell is confident the reports required of the State Government would be presented to UNESCO in time to avoid the threatened in danger listing.
He said the LNP government was already reviewing Gladstone Harbour and compiling a ports strategy. It was already assessing the health of the Reef through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in cooperation with the Federal  Government.
By John Mikkelsen


  1. I think balanced and controlled development with proper protections for the Reef and World Heritage Area is the key. It's no good acting like an ostrich and saying parts of the reef are still in great shape so why worry? True environmentalists want to see safeguards for the entire reef and that doesn't mean shutting down the entire coal industry but ensuring the mad rush to develop or expand coal ports and handle the emerging LNG export industry is brought under control. The scandalous rushing through of EIS reports with inadequate studies before approval has already been well documented.

  2. There is a need for more port facility even outside the resource sector. There is a problem with getting grain to port especially with Brisbane now a real bottle neck. I believe if the "missing link" railway was built between Miles & Banana that a lot of grain would head to a more northern port.
    What are our deep water ports currently operating along the Qld coast? Where can any new port be developed?

    Now with the problems with Gladstone harbour; the problem is more to do with the long term industrialisation beside the harbour & waste being laid down in the sediment that is now being stirred up with a massive dredging program in the development of LNG export facilities.
    What if a new channel was dredged in a locality that didn't have the same industrial history? There would be a downside in the original dredging process that would be reversible with time. Once a shipping channel is established maintenance dredging wouldn't have a very great impact.

    Agree fully about the inadequacies of the current system of EIS's.

  3. According to the Qld government's ports strategy, developments are only supposed to occur at existing ports in the GBR World Heritage Area which includes Gladstone, Hay Point (Mackay) Abbot Point (Bowen) and Townsville. But they say Gladstone includes Port Alma and the Fitzroy delta about 50km north. Xstrata recently dropped plans to develop a new coal port there (Balaclava Island) on economic grounds, but probably also had the environmental protests and UNESCO in mind.
    Nothing to stop developers from eyeing potential new port sites in the south but try to convince coastal residents around Bundaberg, (Elliot Heads), Hervey Bay or the Rainbow Beach - Sunshine Coast areas that a new port would be a good thing.

  4. Ports in Queensland are like a creeping cancer, particularly in the Gladstone region.

    The original Port of Gladstone went as far north as Fishermans Landing until the greedy GPC decided to stuff the entire region including all of Curtis Island by extending first of all, the port north to the Narrows.

    Then even now there is talk of cutting Graham Creek through to the ocean to make a "loop" for shipping to come in one end and out the other.

    Then they decided that every square inch of the northern areas at the top of The Narrows needs to be turned into more port facilities. The only recognised port area at Port Alma was the small existing port facility, there was never any suggestion that Balaclava Island or the top half of Curtis Island was ever part of the port precinct.

    There was never any suggestion that there should be more port (coal loading facilities) established up to 15 kilometres out to sea on dirty great floating platforms for loading coal in the middle of Keppel Bay.
    This project was confirmed recently as being still on the board.

    The cancer is growing daily in Gladstone/Curtis Island region and the Greedy Govts are supporting all that is being done in this regard.

    Recent plans exist showing a road/rail corridor the entire length of the GBRWHA listed, Curtis Island.

    Both State and Federal Govts support the spread of this Cancer and refuse to acknowledge that every square inch of the area being destroyed by the cancer is totally within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

    Let us not forget that the Port of Bundaberg is also controlled by the Gladstone Ports Corporation so there is the potential for the spread of this insidious cancer to spread right down the coast to Bundaberg as well.

    It is only a short time back that the Federal Govt did the right thing for once and refused to let them build another new super port at Shoalwater Bay, north of Yeppoon. Hopefully the cancer was stopped there at least and there are not further attempts to re open the push for that port again.

    The push for more super ports right up the coast is only the start of the spread of the cancer in other areas.

    Soon there will be so many ports along the coast that the resources that they are pulling out of the ground will be depleted far earlier than they now say. If this happens, what will happen to these facilities.

    Will they start a new Tourist industry called "fishing off abandoned wharves"

    By then it will be too late for the Reef because when they finish dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of dredge fill onto the reef there will be little else left.

    Some are giving the reef to the north of Central Qld a reasonably good bill of health. We have to keep it that way and the only to keep it that way is to not allow the cancer to infect it.

    The cancer in the 1,000 square kilometres of the Gladstone Region is probably terminal and that is why there is such an urgent push to have that 1,000 square kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area removed from the protection of the world Heritage Listing.

    Just last week Minister Burke declared that he was vehemently opposed to letting the farmers feed their cattle on overgrown grass in National Parks to save the lives of the cattle and the livelihoods of the farmers but the very same Minister Burke is the very person who personally approved the destruction of thousands of hectares of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This is hypocrisy at it's highest.

  5. Yes, I don't know if Burke will have the balls to try to block the Qld government's national parks grazing decision but if he does I think it would reflect badly on him and his govt except in the eyes of a few deep green greenies. Grazing cattle for a short term is not going to ruin the national parks and most sensible people would accept it as a small concession to reality in the face of starving cattle.


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