Monitoring stations at Gladstone Harbour recorded dangerously high turbidity levels at the same time as UNESCO was issuing dire warnings about the possible degradation of the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status last week.
Queensland Greens spokesperson, Dr Libby Connors says the turbidity caused by dredging in the harbour stirs up sediments containing toxic heavy metals.
The 30 day data for monitoring station QE4 indicated the turbidity was in the extreme level of above the 99th percentile for 9 days during the month of May and was still in this range on 1 June.
‘This pattern of repeatedly high turbidity levels in areas of the harbour where dredging is taking place smothers seagrass shoots and agitates sediments which contain heavy metals poisonous that are poisonous to human and marine life,’ Dr Connors says.
‘The shallow waters of Gladstone Harbour which in the past have nurtured ideal habitats for dugong and turtles are clearly unsuited to the large-scale industrial development required for coal and gas ports.’
UNESCO’s State of Conservation Report on the Great Barrier Reef released on 1 June warns that the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage Status will be classed as in Danger if further development is approved without an assessment of cumulative impacts.
It specifically criticises the management of development in Gladstone Harbour and its “inadequate independent, scientific oversight”.
Dr Connors says the Queensland Government has just eight months to restore the harbour’s environmental health. The government’s first step should be to instruct the Department of Environment and Heritage to restore the former environmental standards for turbidity, she said.
‘The state government must enforce stricter controls so that all dredging stops when forecasts indicate tidal and weather movements are going to agitate the seabed.
‘The companies must dredge according to the environmental conditions or the harbour will never recover.’
Dr Connors said that soon after Campbell Newman took office the Department of Environment and Heritage raised the permitted turbidity level so that port developers could continue dredging even during the muddiest periods and not receive an Environmental Protection Order to stop.
‘The tragedy is that even the government’s higher turbidity threshold has been breached on several occasions since the Newman government came to power,‘ she said.
‘The harbour has no hope of recovering while environmental management by the state government is so lax.’
This Tuesday is World Environment Day and Dr Connors said it would be great to see the day marked appropriately .
‘It would be fitting for the new Minister for the Environment to announce new environmental licence conditions and a revised management plan for the dredging in Gladstone Harbour.’
‘That would be a great way to celebrate World Environment Day in this state after the shame of the UNESCO report.’
Dredging Today Staff, June 4, 2012; Image: westernbasinportdevelopment