Australian Port Dredging Report Defends Environmental Standards

By MarEx 2014-04-24 19:35:00

Ports Australia has released a recent peer reviewed scientific study, Dredging and Australian Ports, which compares the outcomes of recent dredging projects with the environmental performance criteria set down for them.

The objective of the report is to provide a basis for improved discussion on port related dredging in subtropical and tropical areas of Australia and associated environmental impacts. It also highlights the importance of ports and shipping channels to the Australian economy and the critical role of dredging in port operations and growth. 

An overview is given of the approval processes associated with dredging and at-sea placement of dredged material, the nature of environmental monitoring programs associated with recent port related dredging projects and, through a comparison of monitored environmental impacts with those approved by government, determines that recent port related dredging projects in northern Australia have performed well.

Over the past twenty years there has been an increased awareness of the conservation, ecological and economic value of habitats such as seagrass and corals. Environmental risk is now far more effectively managed than in the past. Port related dredging is far more regulated than in the past to prevent and reduce environmental impacts to high value ecological communities. Importantly, the acceptable level and extent of environmental impact is now clearly defined in government approvals for dredging.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said, “This timely review makes the crucial observation that shipping channels are of equal importance to our road and rail networks and that dredging of shipping channels is an essential part of port operation in Australia and globally. However, dredging and seabed placement continues to be misrepresented as an environmental threat to the Great Barrier Reef by activists whose only objective is to close down Queensland’s export coal and gas industries.

“The message from Queensland is as clear as it has ever been – no dredging of coral reefs and no disposal of dredge spoil on coral reefs or other environmentally sensitive areas. Now, this expert, peer-reviewed report has confirmed that recent dredging and dredged material placements in subtropical and tropical Australian ports have either met their rigorous environmental conditions or exceeded expectations,” Roche said.

Quoting from the report: ‘Of the 43 monitoring programs reviewed, 62 per cent reported impacts that were consistent with approvals, 21 per cent reported impacts less than approved, 5 per cent reported impacts that were greater than approved and, in 12 per cent of the cases, impacts could not be determined primarily due to extreme weather effects.’

Roche said the review didn’t pull any punches in calling out the Gladstone Western Basin and Hay Point Departure Path projects reporting water turbidity impacts significantly greater than those approved or predicted. “However, as the report highlights, associated monitoring of seagrass did not indicate any impacts greater than those permitted under the environmental conditions imposed at Gladstone; and at Hay Point, the impact on inshore coral was 20-times less than expected.”

The Queensland Resources Council has come under criticism from the Australian Greens for their latest Great Barrier Reef advertisement campaign as an attempt to distract from the obvious damage the coal and gas industries do to the Great Barrier Reef.

“This latest mining industry ad campaign is another attempt to distract from the increasing threat the coal and gas industry poses to the Reef, directly from dredging and dumping for new ports, and indirectly from increased temperatures, ocean acidification and extreme weather events from worsening climate change. Those are the real ‘Reef Facts’. The reef is under pressure like never before,” said Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson.

A complementary Ports Australia report will be prepared in the near future that relates to Australian ports located in temperate areas and the environmental performance of their dredging projects.

Read the report here.