Australia has portrayed itself on the international stage as having a clean, green image — especially when it comes to protecting the oceans. As reported on the ABC’s  The World Today Earthworks and Mining Watch from Canada has released a report “Troubled Waters: How Mine Waste Dumping is Poisoning our Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes” — and it did not mention Australia.

“Mining companies are dumping more than 180 million tonnes of hazardous mine waste each year into rivers, lakes, and oceans …”

This statement in the preface is wrong from the outset. It should read governments and shareholders allow the dumping of mine waste. It is the Queensland and federal governments that are proposing to allow the dredging  and dumping of 125  million  cubic metres of potentially toxic sediment in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage area.

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All the bureaucracies involved are “confident” that the deaths of turtles, dugongs and dolphins, the illness in fish, fishermen and corals around the areas dredged and the spoil ground where the waste is dumped have nothing to do with dredging.

The company undertaking the dredging is Port of Gladstone Corporation (GPC). In The Courier-Mail early this year;

The boss of Gladstone Ports Corporation remains “absolutely” confident his company’s massive dredging project is not making fish in the city’s harbour sick.

Chief executive Leo Zussino yesterday said the corporation had a “wealth of scientific data on our side”, after an independent panel on Friday ordered more testing to determine what was causing diseased fish.

“We welcome every bit of testing because we are confident that … it will confirm the dredging has no impact upon disease in fish,” he said.

Though he takes almost all the flak on this project, Zussino is likely legally or at least morally obliged to advocate for his company and he will, like any good CEO with company profits foremost in his mind, continue to declare that there is no effect from dredging — even if the harbour was full of dead dolphins and dugongs — or until the state or federal governments tell him otherwise.

The federal government has left all the management of the environment impact of this massive port development project to the state government agencies and the GPC and even sought to profit from it by charging for the dumping of dredge spoil.

On March 7, the UNESCO Reactive Monitoring Mission took submissions in Gladstone.  It was invited by the Australian government to investigate the Curtis Island (part of Gladstone harbour) liquid natural gas development within the World Heritage area — a development that the federal government neglected to inform the World Heritage body about — as per its obligations.

Just as the GPC cannot be expected to give an objective view of the impact of dredging on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), neither can government scientists, especially while governments are so determined to approve any and all development.

On March 7, an independent veterinary pathologist Dr Matt Landos provided to UNESCO a power-point presentation that left many speechless. Veterinary pathology is most often associated with the identification and management of disease in aquaculture.  He is singly the most qualified person to study the impact of dredging on fish and used a proper scientific process to collect and have evaluated samples from other animals found dead.

This research was funded by a fund established by community groups and the fishing industry and is ongoing.

The link between disease and pollution is not obvious to most of us at first, but it relates to stress.  Animals and people that are suffering from the effects of toxins, disturbance, etc, are stressed and more likely have suppressed immune systems making them vulnerable to disease.

Just some of the dot points raised in Dr Landos’ report make chilling reading. They also show that these problems continue more than 12 months after all was blamed on flood events;

  • Barramundi — not eating; red skin lesions; eye lesions; gill lesions; multi-species hyperparasitism
  • Bull shark — skin lesions; hyperparasitism
  • Catfish — red skin lesions ; emaciation
  • Queenfish — red skin lesions (19/27); hyperparasitism
  • Oyster crackers — fin erosions (3/3)
  • Blubberlip bream — red skin lesions; eye lesions; hyperparasitism
  • Black-tip/bronze whaler; hammerhead; weasel shark — high proportion reddened skin and skin ulcers
  • Turtle — emaciated, with food in gut
  • Dugong — boat strike lesions, with seagrass in gut
  • Dolphin — increased mortality rate
  • Crab — prevalence of shell disease increasing with proximity to dredging in western basin commencing May 2011 and worsening to the present
  • Dying coral at Sable Chief Rocks, observed Feb 2012
  • Dying coral trout when brought into harbour in April 1, 2011
  • Sick humans — skin boils, fever, and skin rashes

Tony Burke and the Queensland government may choose to “tough it out” but a galaxy poll released today showed overwhelming opposition to the dumping of dredge spoil in the great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. From a Greens press release:

“This is a stunning result — 91% of Australians are against turning our World Heritage Great Barrier Reef into a rubbish dump, with only 3% in favour,” said Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters.

“The international community are so concerned they’ve sent UNESCO to investigate, and now on the last day of their visit, the Australian community have spoken out loud and clear — what’s it going to take for the government to stop dredging and dumping in the reef?”

What indeed?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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