Friday, 27 December 2013

Gladstone harbour - the truth and the pain to bring it to light

Truth never lost ground by enquiry. - WILLIAM PENN, Some Fruits of Solitude

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light. - GEORGE WASHINGTON
Pic supplied by author
Photo by John Mikkelsen

Finally the truth has come out in the major metropolitan newspapers about what has been killing marine life in Gladstone harbour. To be fair the situation wasn’t helped by the Gladstone Port Corporation (GPC) withholding reports from public examination for over two years. The local newspaper, the Gladstone Observer, has finally reported the news instead of printing the version presented by the GPC without too much outside inquiry. The full page advertising by GPC at the time may have been co-incidental.  
The enquiry for truth has largely been pursued in the alternative media on blog sites. The most prolific writer about the disaster besetting Gladstone harbour is John Mikkelsen or Mikko to his online friends, a semi-retired journalist living at the time at Tannum Sands who could see first-hand the fish deaths, could talk to the local fishermen and the scientists who came to investigate.
John Mikkelsen in his latest blog post, Gladstone Harbour- dredging up what went wrong, writes of the “latest of the belated reports emerging showing how environmental breaches went unreported in Gladstone Harbour;” referring to Tony Moore’s December 20th Brisbane Times newspaper article, Gladstone Harbour bund wall failures explained.
The Australian in the November 18th issue carried the article, Fish fears rise over LNG port dredging, revealing how GPC withheld reports for more than two years containing evidence contrary to the GPC claim that the problems were all caused by a flood in 2011, a scenario that as time went on became increasingly apparent to be unlikely.  The author of this article in the Australian is the Environment editor, Graham Lloyd who has since followed up with two more articles, Bad build blamed for fish deaths and Gladstone port plea to stem toxic leak.

Vision demonstrating failings in the bund wall at Gladstone Harbour.
Photo Brisbane Times

The evidence now available supports what John Mikkelsen has been writing since September 2011. His articles were published in two of Australia’s largest blog sites, Something’s really fishy in the Gladstone waters at The Punch on October 2011 and then on the 26th at ABC’s Unleashed, Gladstone fish can't read.

John Mikkelsen
But the enquiry into truth was not without cost, on October 17th 2011 Mikko who several years previously had held the position of editor of the Gladstone Observer wrote:

Yesterday I watched a convoy of tugs towing barges loaded with dredging spoil past Tannum Sands to the dumping grounds in open waters just outside the entrance to Gladstone Harbour, the scene of widespread controversy surrounding continuing catches of sick fish and dead marine animals.

On Wild Cattle Island, a national park just south of Tannum beach, I saw the carcass of another dead adult turtle washed up at low tide, the latest in more than 200 strandings.

In the past week, local media outlets have all run full-page advertisements from the Gladstone Ports Corporation stating “Water quality in Gladstone Harbour is OK”. Tell that to the fish.

Meanwhile, for almost five years I have been writing a weekly column, ‘What Goes Around’ in The Gladstone Observer. For the past month, I have focussed on the harbour controversy but it has now been axed because of “budget restrictions”. All online comments to articles relating to the harbour and diseased fish were removed just over a week ago and since then new articles have not allowed online comment.

All that could be coincidental and I am not suggesting otherwise, just presenting the circumstances. My last article, published in today’s Observer (October 17)”

The above quote was published at a community blog site that no longer deserves to be named. This article attracted several thousand views to the ongoing comments that kept people up to date to the unfolding situation at Gladstone harbour. Most of these views would have been from people keeping themselves informed rather than those actually commenting.  Unfortunally the article also attracted a couple of people with the zealous desire to discredit the evidence being presented and although living far away from Gladstone were very persistent in harassment often using cherry picked Google searches. The article was deleted in November 2012 because of the abuse of trust that the community placed in one person to hold the site’s password; it was deleted for no other reason than this person choose at the time to disagree with it.

The original post was copied and is available at the pindanpost blog site. Many pages of updated comments, including informed scientific commentary, are lost.   

It appeared that the motivation to persistently harass the events at Gladstone harbour to be reported and commented upon was that environmental groups had subsequently become active about the issue and that if the ‘greenies’ were making statements they had to be automatically wrong. While it is certainly easy to find many examples of the extreme end of the environmental movement in their ‘the end justifies the means’ approach using alarmism, misinformation and even sabotage, it is simplistic to assume that everyone interested in environmental issues are of bad character with incorrect information. Whenever in this harassment it was pointed out the greenies were involved with Gladstone harbour, Mikko would patiently reply that “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”    

Social media can be and is being used for good; the enquiry into the truth about Gladstone harbour would not have proceeded without the use of blog sites. However it also provides a soap box for those that society would not have otherwise have provided for some people. It brings out the ‘haters’ from both the politically left and the right. It provides the opportunity for you to hear the viewpoint that you want to hear and to attack every view expressed by other sources that have been pigeon holed as wrong. Social media provides the opportunity for those that wish to rant, engage in absolutes and abuse just as it can provide the opportunity for enquiry, positive engagement and thoughtfulness. 

Photo sourced -
 Those of us who are politically conservative and are interested in a balance of conservation with economic development and community values should stand strong against the attacks of some on the left who believe that the only legitimate comment on environmental issues is owned by them. Also those of us you are politically conservative and are interested into the enquiry into the truth of a situation should resist the weakness that requires one to retreat to known absolutes and not allow new events to challenge one’s thinking. Sometime there are circumstances where you end up on a parallel course to others that are normally in opposition; it appears that some are so insecure in their own convictions that they create an artificial world of “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”.

Congratulations Mikko for the truth belatedly being reported in the major metropolitan main stream media. You have stuck to your guns; the truth has ultimately prevailed thanks to the pains you took to bring it to light. The pursuit may have not been without pain; there are a few people that owe you an apology.

The event of November 2012 was the catalyst for the beginning of this blog site and below is the list of the posts published by John Mikkelsen about the Gladstone Harbour


Photo sourced from,

Gladstone Harbour- dredging up what went wrong

May 9 2014
The independent report to federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was released on and it reveals that there was an obvious determined attempt to cover up the whole devastating effects of the dredging and leaking bund wall, coinciding with the fish disease and toxic algae outbreaks.

Bad build and oversight failure at Gladstone gas hub.


  1. Dale you have obviously put a lot of time and effort into compiling this record and many thanks for that. My main motivation has always been to have the truth emerge and now finally it seems that is happening. More articles are emerging almost daily in The Australian and The Gladstone Observer. In fairness I should point out that the Gladstone publication now has a new editor who seems much more willing to cover the emerging environmental problems that were with held at the time, rather than simply relying on GPC and government handouts, although a question mark hangs over why about a dozen comments on once recent report about the leaking bund wall were suddenly withdrawn. This was a common occurrence under a former editor, so it does make one wonder where the directive to delete all comments originated in this latest case.

  2. Well done, Dale and really well done, Mikko.

    1. Agreed, Geoff, well done indeed. A meticulously researched vindication of John Mikko whose courage to 'stand alone and be counted' in the face of strident opposition deserves recognition.

  3. The content below is from an email from independent aquatic veterinarian Dr Matt Landos to a number of fellow scientists. Dr Landos last year presented a detailed scientific report linking dredging as the most likely cause of the prolonged Gladstone fish disease, which was rubbished by the GPC and a senior CSIRO scientist. Subsequent emerging evidence has also vindicated his findings.
    "The past few days has seen Gladstone back in the media for all the wrong reasons.
    Minister Hunt has today intimated in The Australian that yet another inquiry is on the cards.

    Another recent one at:

    Over the past year Gladstone Ports Corporation have tried to intimidate the press to stop the facts emerging. To the credit of Graham Lloyd he has continued to pursue the truth.

    Given the failure of the Qld Govt investigation, failure of the Qld Independent Panel and failure of the Commonwealth Gladstone Review to correctly identify the cause of the Gladstone ecosystem collapse, it appears that nothing short of a Royal Commission with full legal powers to require identified persons to give evidence is needed.
    I’ve today notified Minister Hunt of my support for a royal commission and my willingness to participate in any inquiry he initiates.
    I call on Minister Hunt to also follow through on why CSIRO have not responded to a complaint lodged against the factually incorrect report written by Dr Graham Batley in August, who attempted to de-base my work in his submission to the Commonwealth Gladstone Review for UNESCO.

    I also call on Minister Hunt to enquire as to why FRDC censored my presentation from the proceedings of the Bi-annual FRDC Aquatic Animal Health Conference which was delivered this year.

    Australia needs the knowledge that science can offer to lead its decisions. This can only take place when integrity is re-installed to our scientific institutions and research funding bodies.

    I encourage you all to support Minister Hunt in vigorously investigating these matters.

  4. Congratulations John
    Your persistence is finally paying off. Australia's scientific process used to have some integrity. It needs to win it back. The GPC and the government should have owned up to the problem, paid full and fair compensation to the fishermen and fixed the problem. It appears that two years of damage to human health and the environment could have been minimised or avoided.
    We need to maintain our reputation as a sophisticated first world country but this will only happen if governments fix obvious problems rather than trying to cover them up. How long did they really believe this could go on without the truth becoming known?

  5. Exactly Jo. It remains to be seen how deep the coverups go at both levels of government. The GPC claims they rpovided them with all the information but the people of Gladstone were kept in the dark and fed BS like good little mushrooms. A royal commission is probably the only way the full truth will emerge.

  6. Probably worth pointing out that the original quotes linked to in the Pindan Post in Dale's main post was apparently lifted straight from the other site described by Dale as " a community blog site that no longer deserves to be named". This happened within days of it first appearing - it was not posted there by me after I pulled the pin (and a heap of my articles) on that other site. Personally I am not in the least concerned about that.

  7. A whistlblower has come forward about Gladstone harbour; from The Australian January 13, Saving mangroves 'put Gladstone harbour at toxic risk'

    "John Broomhead said the order to change the design of a "bund" wall to hold dredge spoils from the $35 billion Curtis Island liquefied natural gas projects in the harbour had came from the federal Environment Department and Queensland Co-ordinator-General as the plans were being finalised.

    The common themes, Mr Broomhead claimed, were conflicts of interest and a culture of arrogance on the part of GPC and incompetence and repeated failure by federal and state regulators.

    Mr Broomhead said he knew there were problems with the bund wall as early as August 2011 and had told GPC senior management. The corporation has previously admitted problems with the wall but has not detailed what went wrong.

    It was forced to seek permission to breach its environmental approvals in June 2012 to close a leaking bund wall before it ran out of space to store potentially acid sulphate soils.

    Engineers who worked on the project said cost-cutting and design changes - including the use of lighter weight geotextile fabric that was placed on the side of the wall rather than buried within it as the original design had called for - had cursed it from the outset.

    He said the state Coordinator-General and the federal Environment Department had failed by not insisting on baseline data, changing the shape of the bund wall without modelling and not insisting on conditions to stop work to allow the environment to recover.

    "When you have an environment already on its knees, the only thing you can do is stop everything in the harbour until it recovers," he said. "That should have happened in about August or September 2011."

  8. Major development, Greg Hunt orders an independent commission of inquiry!
    The story is today's The Australian [click here]
    The whistle blower coming forward and the articles published in The Australia was what forced Greg hunt to take the Gladstone harbour issue to an inquiry.

    " But he said fresh evidence from whistleblower John Broomhead, reported in The Australian last week, made it essential that an independent probe take place.

    "It is absolutely clear that there was a failure in the bund wall of significant proportions," Mr Hunt said. "As to the causes and the response, that is precisely why we need to have an independent inquiry. It is part of the role of a new government to investigate what went wrong and why, to make sure it does not happen again."

    " A number of former GPC employees and fish health specialists, including veterinarian Matt Landos, are expected to give evidence to an independent hearing.

    The inquiry is expected to look at how Australia's largest dredging project was planned, undertaken and overseen by state and federal regulators. It will examine whether the failure of the bund wall had contributed to the collapse of ecosystem health. The inquiry will look at the cause of the bund wall failure and whether it had been properly handled by GPC.

    The probe will assess whether GPC had fully disclosed all information it had about what had happened in the harbour.

  9. Hi Dale, yes there have been more good reports in The Australian and it seems Greg Hunt has finally bowed to the pressure. Hopefully it really will be a fully independent inquiry rather than former whitewash investigations by one arm of government into a government-owned corporation (GPC). It seems apparent that some of the reports showing serious environmental breaches and the presence of toxic algae were made known to federal and state authorities at the time but there were no public warnings even when people were hospitalised with serious life-threatening infections.

  10. Has there been any adequate compensation paid for those with health problems or for the loss of income to the fishermen?
    In to today's story in The Australia is a quote from fisherman Mark McMillian.
    "Third-generation Gladstone fisherman Mark McMillan said yesterday independent work needed to be done to discover the true cause of fish deaths and disease in the harbour.

    Mr McMillan said the official line that the problems were sparked by flooding was "laughable". "I'm 100 per cent positive it's the dredging and the bund wall leakage," he said.

    Mr McMillan said he rarely fished in the harbour any more, with LNG plant construction and other industry - as well as the previous fish deaths - forcing fishermen out.

    "I've lost a lot of area. I've had to go back into debt -- $150,000 - to buy a bigger boat and a truck to tow it out to fish a wider area that's further out," he told The Australian. "I'll probably never recover from this."

  11. Dale, not only has no compensation been paid to people hospitalised with serious infections linked to toxic algae blooms including one which John Fairfax repeatedly warned about - lyngbya - a senior GPC executive at the time suggested the rashes and infections reported by some pro fishers were probably due to "poor hygiene practices".
    More news reports out today keeping Gladstone in the international and national spotlight including Fishermen hope probe dredges up skeletons
    Gladstone fishermen say bund wall leak cost them dearly
    Good luck to the fishermen who deserved to be compensated not just for l;oiss of income, but for loss of their businesses.
    The government has always blamed the 2011 flood for the disease in seafood and deaths of turtles, dugong and dolphin but in reality, as I have always maintained, the "unprecedented flood" in Gladstone was mainly relatively clean water flowing over the dam, with no homes or businesses flooded downstream - unlike many other centres up and down the coast and in linland towns which recorded heavy propertt losses and unfortunately, loss of lives.

  12. And remember how an armchair google expert on another site kept insisting Gladstone had experienced a really bad flood in 2011? A bad flood would carry a lot of silt and most likely disrupt shipping and other port activities, but check this direct quote from the Gladstone Poirts Corporations own 2010/'11 annual report:
    "Flooding impacts on Port operations
    The extreme weather encountered over the summer of 2010/11 resulted in significant flooding of rivers feeding into our port precincts.
    While this flooding was widespread, only Bundaberg suffered significantly from siltation with in excess of 1.4 million cm2 of sands and gravels deposited in the shipping channels.
    "Port Alma and Gladstone recorded only minor increases in siltation and experienced no significant impacts to operations as a result of the flooding."
    So no homes flooded, no harbour channels silted .. does that constitute a terrible unprecedented generational flood which the authorities kept blaming for fish deaths two or more years later, while covering up toxic algae blooms, sewage and oil spills from dredges, and last but not least, a bund reclamation wall that was poorly constructed and designed so that it kept leaking like a sieve. In fact the latest whistleblower report in The Australian last week claimed it was still leaking and would cost an extra $50 million to fix.

  13. The independent report to federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was released on May 9th and it reveals that there was an obvious determined attempt to cover up the whole devastating effects of the dredging and leaking bund wall, coinciding with the fish disease and toxic algae outbreaks.

    Bad build and oversight failure at Gladstone gas hub.

    "A KEY part of the Gladstone Harbour dredging program for the $35 billion Curtis Island liquefied natural gas export hub has failed due to bad construction, inadequate monitoring and poor environmental oversight by state and federal governments, an independ¬ent inquiry has found.

    The failure of a bund wall designed to hold dredge spoils from the harbour expansion coincided with a spike in fish, turtle and dugong deaths in late 2011.

    The independent report to federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, which will be released today, ruled the investigation into the fish deaths to be outside its terms of reference, but said the bund wall had been plagued by “poor practice”.

    Results of the inquiry vindicate concerns raised by former Gladstone Ports environment officer turned whistleblower John Broomhead in The Australian in January and are a stunning ¬indictment on Gladstone Port management and state and federal government regulators"

    Other news articles about the report to Greg Hunt.

  14. Hi Dale, thanks for the timely update. It is now obvious that the poor environmental controls that allowed the Gladstone ecological disaster to happen were not the result of plain incompetence, but a desire to get the job done with minimal interruptions and interference. The continued attempts to cover up the leaking wall and a toxic algae bloom while blaming it all on a flood which flooded virtually nothing in Gladstone, Boyne Island and Tannum Sands and which Gladstone Ports Corporation itself reported in its 2011 annual report as having "minimal impact" in the harbour, have now lost all credibility.
    The culprits deserve to be penalised on a scale commensurate with the environmental damage (consider the large fines applied to fishermen caught with a few under-sized fish or crabs, or for damaging a mangrove branch, and multiply by a factor of thousands).
    The commercial fishers and seafood marketers/ wholesalers should also be compensated substantially for loss of livlihood and serious ilnness which some suffered, while authorities kept maintaining there were no problems with the harbour water quality.


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