NQBP: Port Expansions and Reef Can Safely Coexist (Australia)

Port Expansions and Reef Can Safely Coexist

The head of North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) stated that the Great Barrier Reef is not under threat by proposed port development.

In an opinion piece (see below), NQBP chief executive Brad Fish says port operations and shipping in the marine park are well regulated and the scale of the activity is minor compared to the size of the reef.

“Australia’s seaports are gateways to domestic and international trade, connecting Australia to the world. Because of the nation’s port system, products produced by Australians provide food, goods and services and fuel to heat and light homes, businesses and cities around the world.

Some of our major ports operate adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) as Queensland is endowed with world class base metals and high quality coal resources. These resources are exported around the globe from Queensland ports. There has been much public discussion lately about the impacts of these ports and shipping on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. The importance of the Great Barrier Reef to Australia’s identity and environment cannot be understated. However, much of the debate is misinformed and has the potential to adversely impact the economy of this country and hence future investment in the health and wellbeing of the Great Barrier Reef.

Ports, shipping and indeed dredging have been undertaken within the bounds of what is now the GBRMP for over 100 years. During that time, the growth in ports and shipping has been gradual and despite speculation to the contrary, growth will continue to be ordered and incremental.

The truth is that the GBRMP has a long history as a multi-use national asset, supporting many industries that drive Queensland’s economy, including tourism, sugar, livestock, fishing, resources and timber. This can and must continue under a regulated environment. To exclude port activity or the activities such as dredging which allow ports to remain safe and viable would jeopardise the prosperity and wellbeing of Australia.

The ports in Queensland are in areas identified specifically for that activity. Their scale and reach compared to the overall 34.5 million hectares of the GBRMP is minor. For example, the total offshore port areas adjacent to the GBRMP are less than one per cent of the total marine park area. In some port locations, the nearest significant coral reefs are over 100km from the coast.

Over the past 30 years, NQBP as a port authority and facilitator of regional economic development has invested millions of dollars in environmental research both as part of impact studies and through ongoing monitoring of the environment such as seagrass and water quality studies. We place a high value on the environment and our strict environmental management has gone hand in hand with our significant contribution to the nation’s economy.

We have worked with communities, Traditional Owners, businesses, farmers, contractors, coal miners, environmentally concerned individuals and groups, regulators, tourism groups and many others in being transparent in relation to our sustainable port planning and operations and the potential impacts they have and how impacts are avoided or managed. Our ports boast world’s best practice from construction to operation and environmental management. The Great Barrier Reef is not under threat by proposed port development.

Our employees live, work and raise their children in towns adjacent to the GBRMP and we know how lucky we are to have a renowned World Heritage site at our door step and the obligations and responsibilities that brings for us as a port authority.

The truth is that scientific studies independent of the ports show that the major impacts on the GBR’s health are overwhelmingly due to storm damage, the crown of thorns starfish and coral bleaching (as a result of warming water/climate change), not ports or dredging as the current debate would suggest.

Throughout the constant media campaign we have been witnessing, which is aimed at the resources sector, the people who would have us believe they are the ones who care most about the reef have been silent on the recognised major impacts to the GBR’s health. It is sad that so much time, effort and money is being spent on drawing attention away from the things we all need to be concentrating on if the GBR is to remain the international icon that it is.

Australia is an island nation; we rely on our ports for economic stability and growth. We also rely on our environment and World Heritage Areas to define our unique culture and geography. NQBP’s social licence to operate is determined by our stewardship of the environment in which we operate. We have demonstrated best-practice development and proven that protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the careful, considered expansion of Queensland port facilities do not need to be at the expense of each other.”


Dredging Today Staff, July 15, 2013

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