Spotlight on Maintenance Dredging in the Great Barrier Reef

The 8th Annual Dredging & Reclamation Summit, taking place on 15-16 November in Brisbane, will bring together 15 expert speakers to discuss key strategies to improve cost efficiency, reducing lead time and ensuring the sustainability of dredging operations.

Ahead of the summit, we caught up with Dr Neil Tripodi, Principal Scientist, Water Assessment and Systems Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation (QLD), to discuss how the proposed changes to renewal and revision of permits will affect maintenance dredging.

Dr Tripodi shared an exclusive insight into regulatory developments related to maintenance dredging in the Great Barrier Reef.

He focused in particular on the different approaches from different levels of government, and how revisions will align licencing with operating conditions that are attributed to a permit.

“The state issues permits that apply within coastal waters, which is where dredging activity occurs – cutting channels and berths, and sometimes, the disposal. In other situations the disposal actually occurs outside of coastal waters, in Commonwealth waters, and that is governed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority – or GBRMPA – in the Great Barrier Reef area, or the Department of Environment in non-GBR areas,” said Dr Tripodi.

“As a result, there could be two levels of government involved. Each government agency has its own way of managing regulation.

“The state government in Queensland issues dredging permits in perpetuity, so they have no end date and they don’t need renewal. The permits are assigned to an operator, which, for all intents and purposes is usually the operator of the dredging vessel named The Brisbane.

“It carries out all of the maintenance dredging around those Queensland ports.

“That is collected on behalf of the ports, which in turn is collected on behalf of the operator. Therefore, any need for renewal, or a revision of that licence, is based on changes in policy. Because otherwise there would be no driver for a review of the licence.


“In contrast, GBRMPA issues relatively short-term licences with relatively short term. So their assessments or renewals might be every year, every two years, every five years, depending on the circumstances. They are regularly reviewed, as a matter of course, whether there has been a change to policy positions or not.

“The state does it only when there’s some need or driver to do it. Recently there have been changes in the way maintenance dredging is perceived as a risk to the Great Barrier Reef, so that has initiated some changes in policy.

“The state government has reviewed what it calls the operating conditions; conditions that will go onto a permit. Therefore, to get the licences up to date with that, a review will need to take place. That is the reason why state issued licences will need to be reviewed, because of a change of policy.

“The type of revisions that will take place would be to get those licences consistent with the operating conditions. They are a means of standardizing the conditions that appear for different ports, where relevant.

“There are always site-specific circumstances that need to be taken into consideration, and they will be reflected in each individual review. But most of the conditions in the permit are identical.

“There’s been a complaint from the ports in the past about inconsistent licencing, which has been addressed through the creation of the model operating conditions.

“Another thing that we’d like to standardize is the way compliance components of those licences is determined. That is where the science element comes into it. There will be monitoring requirements that are environmentally relevant and more structured because it’s supported by an assessment methodology.


“This approach is less to the discretion of the environmental consultants involved, and more proscribed in the methodology that needs to be taken. It will provide a basis for more uniform information that’s provided for that permit and how it’s going to be assessed.

“There’s a perception in Queensland where the Great Barrier Reef is an important factor in relation to the dredging activities taking place. And with the international pressure involved with the health of the reef, it’s an area that needs attending.

“It’s not something that applies to the rest of Australia. It does apply in Western Australia, where there’s a certain level of international awareness of those reefs, and the large gas operations taking place out there.”

Enabling more cooperation between all relevant stakeholders 

“The situation that has arisen from the UNESCO opinions on the state of the reef is something that has made the state government look at the way other levels of government deal with various issues, and to look at it in a more collective manner.

“It has actually stimulated dialogue between the different levels of government, where normally they operate rather independently of one another. And that’s always a good thing, because it’s good to know what the left and right hand of governments are doing.

“Unnecessary overlap can be avoided – or doubling up on licence conditions at the different levels of government can be improved. 

“There is reasoning behind the conditions and monitoring requirements that are associated with permits, and the process can be streamlined through pre-lodgement meetings. 

“Another item that is very apparent to us, and will actually be good for the ports and associated stakeholders, is that the government is open to negotiation, comments, and reconsideration of all the approaches, including elements that need to be included in the permits. This is very much a collaborative process between all the relevant stakeholders,” concluded Dr Tripodi.