By John Mikkelsen
EVIDENCE that two Gladstone fishers were lucky to have survived an encounter with toxic algae, was presented to a Senate committee hearing into a proposed new bill to halt development in environmentally sensitive Reef waters.
Serious health concerns had coincided with the outbreak of disease in fish and other marine life claimed to be associated with the massive dredging project in Gladstone Harbour, the committee heard.
The Telegraph last week reported the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee had been told of a ‘cluster’ of rare bacterial infections, by environmental medicine specialist Dr Andrew Jeremijenko.
Evidence was given later of other fishermen who were hospitalized, “two by ambulance,on morphine drips, who were lucky to have survived”.
Replying to a question from committee chair, Sen Doug Cameron, aquatic disease vetinarian Dr Matt Landos, said he was aware of the shewanella bacteria referred to previously by Dr Jeremijenko. He said there were two human health concerns that had arisen from the harbour development process.
“ Around 50 people became ill in a very short time which coincided with all the animals in the harbour becoming ill and dying.
“There were two things that happened. They started dredging without any
sediment control before re-suspension. It is possible, when you dredge, to minimise how far all of that sediment that you stir up goes. It is like putting a blender into the bottom, and you can either put a net around your blender and hold all the suspended sediment in, or you can just let it run with the tide.
“In Gladstone, they just let it run with the tide. Unfortunately, the tides are four metres and they run at four or five knots. So the satellite images show we have a 34 kilometre dredge plume of uncontrolled, re-suspended, toxic sediment going throughout the harbour.
“Harbour sediments contain nutrient, so what we have done is fertilise the harbour.” This generated more bacteria and toxic algal blooms. The toxic algal bloom appeared to have been the reason why the harbour was shut to all fishing at that time.
“Several of the fishermen were hospitalised and, as a result of the advice I gave them, through to their GP, they identified that algal toxins were being inhaled off their nets.
“Two of those people had to be immediately taken to hospital by ambulance on morphine drips and are lucky to have survived.
“The reason the algal bloom happened was not natural. It was driven by the increased flux of nutrient from uncontrolled re-suspension. It was not just chance that it happened when it did.
“It also drove these infections with Shewanella that Andrew Jeremijenko spoke about.
“Some of those people are still sick and have lost the use of limbs as a result of these
infections,” Dr Landos said.
Sen Cameron: “Are you aware of any action by the Queensland health authorities on this?
Dr Landos: “No, their action has been largely to suggest that there is no problem with eating the fish, there is no problem with eating the crabs and the water is fine. They have supported, with Gladstone Ports Corporation, sponsoring a $1.2 million media program locally to say, 'The water's fine, go out and use the harbour; everything's
He said the idea that all the problems were caused by a flood was “somewhat fanciful”.
The problem with approval of projects like Gladstone’s and other ports projects now in the pipeline, was that there were ‘multiple beneficiaries’ including government.
“With the government then managing the project, we have an issue with the independence of management; and, with the proponent running the science program, we have an issue with the management of the science,” Dr Landos said.
A four metre tiger shark washed up on Tannum Beach, January 2011. Dredging started in September- October 2010.