The World Heritage Committee (WHC) is considering placing the magnificent Great Barrier Reef in the “endangered” category, because of the adverse impact of proposed new ports and coal loading facilities, which would add to the current pollution problems of soil, fertiliser and pesticides from coastal farms and developments. Each year 16 tonnes of pesticides are dumped in the reef lagoon and herbicides have been detected 15 kilometres offshore.
The WHC had given the state and federal governments until 2015 to improve their act, but after an international inspection of the reef in 2012 it decided to make an early declaration of its findings.
Its latest report has recognised the federal government’s contribution to improving the reef’s condition. Nevertheless, it has warned that these efforts are insufficient, and it wants a policy statement that the government will make an urgent commitment to ensure that no new port development or associated port infrastructure are permitted outside the existing and long-established areas within or adjacent to the property.
“ … While [Australia] has not approved port developments outside existing major port areas, there is no clear commitment towards limiting port development to existing port areas.”
Actually, there are now 43 proposals with potential adverse impacts on the reef, and none has yet been ruled out by the state or federal governments. One includes large industrial construction at Keppel Bay, and construction of new landing facilities on Balaklava Island near Rockhampton, capable of exporting 35 million tonnes of coal annually. There are also proposed new ports at Fitzroy and Wongai which could load another 23.5 million tonnes annually.
The projects are primarily concerned with loading and shipping coal, but now there are added fears about the proposed construction of a new port for the transport of uranium.
Apart from the danger of coal pollution during processing and loading operations, the UN is also concerned that most of the freighters sail through passages across the reef. One Chinese freighter became stuck on the reef recently, causing massive damage across a wide area of coral formations, and it narrowly avoided losing its cargo or even the whole ship.
The report discusses Australia’s “limited progress” in protecting the reef, noting: “The World Heritage Centre and [the International Union for the Conservation of Nature] recommend that the committee consider the Great Barrier Reef for inscription on the list of World Heritage in Danger … in absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment on these priority issues.”
According to World Wildlife Fund spokesman Richard Leck the report “… sharply criticises the Queensland government for weakening environmental protection for the reef by allowing further land clearing of vegetation along rivers leading to the reef and allowing dredge spoil to be dumped in coastal waters.”
The performance of the state and federal governments will be discussed at the WHC’s next meeting in Phnom Penh next month. The committee has now agreed to defer making a final decision on declaring the reef “endangered” until February, to take account of the latest scientific information on the reef’s condition.
Source: cpa.org, May 14, 2013