The last week of January 2014 was a big week for the Great Barrier Reef!
Marine Park Authority approved dumping from the Abbot Pt coal terminal expansion
Friday 31st of January - the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announced its decision to grant North Queensland Bulk Ports permits to dump 3 million cubic meters (5-6 million tonnes) of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (and World Heritage Area).
The dumping permits followed Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt’s approval of the dredging application in early December. The dredging project is part of the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion which will create of one of the world’s largest coal export ports.
Public comments closed for Strategic Assessment and Long-Term Sustainability Plan
Friday 31st January - the same day the dumping permits were granted - was also the final day for public comment on the Great Barrier Reef Draft Strategic Assessment (see in brief), which will eventually inform the Great Barrier Reef Long Term Sustainability Plan (see in brief).
The Draft Strategic Assessment (presented in four draft reports) could ultimately remove the need for project by project assessment and approval by the Federal Government for developments impacting upon the Reef. The Long Term Sustainability Plan will set out the management of the Reef to 2050.
EDO Qld provided a submission on the Draft Coastal Zone Strategic Assessment, one of the four draft reports. It is our view that Queensland’s current legislative framework is seriously flawed and requires significant reform to provide adequate protection and management of the Reef. To find out more and read our full submission, click here.
Due date for Government Progress Report to UNESCO World Heritage Committee
Saturday 1st February - the day after the dumping permits were granted - was the deadline for the Australian and Queensland governments to provide their latest report to the World Heritage Committee on what they are doing to improve protection of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, following recommendations made by the Committee in 2012.
WWF-Australia (WWF) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) undertook a detailed assessment of the performance of both the Australian and Queensland governments in addressing these recommendations and developed their own Report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee - released Thursday 30th January - which includes an accompanying scorecard listing the government failures. EDO Qld provided legal advice to WWF and AMCS on the failures of the current regulatory framework in protecting the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef (at Appendix 5).
The Governments' Progress Report, submitted by the federal and Queensland governments, assured the World Heritage Committee that the Great Barrier Reef's "Outstanding Universal Value and integrity remain largely intact", although declining in parts (such as inshore areas south of Cooktown). The Governments’ report also stated that "extreme weather events and the potential effects of climate change" are the biggest threats to the Reef and that pollution from other sources - including port development and dredging - are "minor but may be highly significant locally and over short time periods''.
Sunday 2nd February - Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt and Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell sent out an official media release in which Minister Hunt said that Australians should proud of Australia's achievements protecting the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Mr Hunt stated that he was "confident that we have the appropriate processes, resources and environmental protection mechanisms in place to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef continues to be among the best managed and protected World Heritage areas in the world”.
* Environmental Defenders Office (Qld) would like to clarify that we are assisting the North Queensland Conservation Council with respect to challenging the sea dumping decision. The idea that the Reef be given a legal personality is an independent idea of a separate office, the Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland (EDO NQ).