This will create thousands of jobs. But at what cost?

Great Barrier reef dredging
The Great Barrier Reef is home to six different species of sea turtle. All are vulnerable species.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to six different species of sea turtle. The survival of these turtles is threatened by water pollution and the direct impact of dredging.

Last year, the Turtle Island Restoration Network warned that coastal development in Queensland could push several species of these turtles towards extinction.

Extinction. Several species of these beautiful sea creatures would be gone forever. And yet this week, the Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, gave the go ahead to four big industrial projects bordering the Great Barrier Reef.

The Federal Government has decided to allow three million cubic metres of rock and sediment, to be dredged and dumped in World Heritage waters.

The state government has welcomed the move, saying it will create thousands of jobs. Environmentalists, however, are deeply concerned. They believe it will put the World Heritage listing of the reef at risk – not to mention damage the natural ecosystems and habitats of the creatures that live there.

It’s not very hard to see why people might be concerned. The projects include a series of ports that will see more than 3 million cubic metres of the seabed dredged and dumped – within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area. This is in order to move coal – which is turn is likely to be responsible for the release of an estimated 3.7 billion tones of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Great Barrier reef dredging
“Dredging and dumping on this scale is a body blow to an already fragile Reef.”

The various projects have been proposed by: the Indian company Adani; BHP Billiton (who recently pulled their involvement); Arrow LNG; and a joint venture between the Indian company GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal.

The UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre previously warned Australia that the Great Barrier Reef will be placed on the ‘World Heritage in danger list’ if the projects are to go ahead. Hunt has responded by saying that the government will be imposing some of the “strictest conditions in Australian history” to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. But will it be enough?

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director, Felicity Wishart, said, “Dredging and dumping on this scale is a body blow to an already fragile Reef. This is bad for the natural environment, tourism, fishers and jobs.”

Activists are concerned because of fears that dredging will damage the heritage-listed site, and increased shipping in the area could further damage the reefs. A report from the previous government also found that dredging had wider reaching implications than originally thought, geographically speaking, with sediment capable of being disturbed by severe weather.

That’s a lot of rock and sediment that might be disturbed. Three million cubic metres of dredge spoil, is enough to fill 150 thousand dump trucks.

In the summer of 2010-11, dredging and floods resulted in dead dugongs, sea turtles and fish found in Gladstone Harbour in Queensland. Fish in the area were diseased, and fishing was banned for weeks. Many locals still do not eat seafood caught in the area.


Greens senator Larissa Waters says, “The Abbott government has sacrificed the climate and the Great Barrier Reef for overseas mining companies … The prime minister is ignoring the World Heritage Committee’s warnings about the mass industrialisation of the reef, and is inviting a world heritage ‘in danger’ listing.”

Great Barrier reef dredging
The Great Barrier Reef is also home to dugongs – another vulnerable species.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most essential ingredients to Queensland’s tourism industry. It is one of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, and its 3000 individual reef systems are home to 1500 species of fish, 13 species of sharks and rays, six of the world’s seven species of threatened sea turtles, and the vulnerable dugong along with 30 other species of marine mammals.

There is absolutely no doubt that dredging will be harmful to the marine environment of the Great Barrier Reef, and the animals who live there. The government has not even tried to deny it – they have merely discussed the measures that will hopefully mitigate these effects.

Honestly, that’s just not good enough. When it comes to the permanent devastation of natural ecosystems, and the extinction of entire species – we should be pushing for more than ‘mitigation’.

We should be pushing to see a stop put to the destruction, period.

To find out more, please have a look at the campaigns being organised by Fight for the Reef, GetUp!, and WWF. To contact the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt directly you can tweet @GregHuntMP or email [email protected].

What do you think of Great Barrier Reef dredging and dumping? Do you think jobs creation is reason enough to approve these projects? 

You can follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter at @melissawellham

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