When UNESCO delegates flew out of Australia last week the passionate plea of a Gladstone regional councillor would have been ringing in their ears. Clyde Cameron, a fourth-generation local, had asked the delegates to help protect the harbour and reefs he describes as “part of his soul”.

Developments totalling more than $70 billion in Gladstone alone, and associated major dredging works in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage-listed harbour, were first on the inspection list for the delegates, Dr Fanny Douvere and Tim Badman. Their visit to Gladstone and other major port projects at Mackay, Bowen and Townsville, followed “extreme concern” expressed by UNESCO last year at not having been informed of the developments in advance.

The Gladstone projects including a 46 million cubic metre dredging program, have been blamed by fishermen and some scientists for continuing fish disease and human health issues, but the state government and its agencies including Gladstone Ports Corporation have maintained there are no links to the dredging. Cr Cameron believes the rapid “unbridled” development in recent years has turned the harbour into an “environmental wasteland”.

As well as being a director of the Gladstone Area Water Board and the Fitzroy Basin Association, Cr Cameron is president of the Mount Larcom RSL sub-branch and the son of a former long-term Calliope shire mayor, the late Don Cameron. He operates a grazing property with his wife Kathy, at the foothills of Kroombit Tops National Park, west of the city.

In a stirring address to a council committee meeting, he extended  invitations for the UNESCO delegates to accompany him on a flight over the harbour, or on a fishing trip in Gladstone waters.  “Both these exercises bring a tear to the soul,” he said.

Cr Cameron described himself as the great grandson of a German immigrant who settled on Gladstone’s shores about 140 years ago.

“I am in a position to relate a significant amount of information about the environmental effects of development on  ‘our’ harbour,” he said. “Personally I have spent many hours swimming, fishing, and sailing in the harbour over some 50 years. It is part of my ‘home’. It is part of my soul.”

Cr Cameron said that with two sons now working in Gladstone’s major industries, he held a balanced view of the harbour situation.

“A reasonable person would say the significant environmental effects could be attributed to industrial development in the harbour precinct dating back to the large meatworks which began operations in the late 1800s … The construction of the world’s largest alumina refinery (QAL) in the 1960s presented another type of environmental challenge,” he said.

The progression of industrial development since then was well known. However, the past couple of years had presented massive environmental challenges for the harbour, “as the mad rush occurs to export energy from our shores”.

“UNESCO and many others feel this urgency has compromised due environmental care of a beautiful asset to humanity — and they are right,” Cr Cameron said. “The Australian governments themselves are at odds with their own directives and influences re- this area that sits on the periphery of the Great Barrier Reef.

“On one hand they pass out millions for Barrier Reef rescue programs to prevent the effects of polluted river and creeks, and on the other hand, allow the harbour (through which that water passes) to become an environmental wasteland”.

Cr Cameron stressed he was not anti-development, but claimed “over the past couple of years, the balance is skewed.

A compensation case  on behalf of local fishermen seeking more than $20 million in damages from the Queensland government and its state-owned Gladstone Ports Corporation, is also due to start in the Environment Court at Rockhampton on Thursday. The fishermen are claiming loss of livlihood as a result of disease across a range of seafood caused by dredging and pollution of the harbour.

The government maintains water quality has not been significantly affected by the dredging project to cater for three liquified natural gas plants on Curtis Island and expanded coal export facilities  in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

Environmental campaigner Mark “Potts” Driscoll brought the  activity to a temporary halt on Wednesday when he chained himself to a dredger in Gladstone Harbour and unfurled a large banner proclaiming “Save the Reef — Stop the dredging”.

Days earlier Driscoll, 48, had completed a trek of more than 500 kilometres along the gas pipeline route from Dalby to Gladstone in searing heat and torrential rain with great grandmother June Norman, 71, and his dog, Bindi. June later met with the UNESCO delegates and was thrilled with the reception she received, including a hug from Dr Fanny Douvere.

“She told me she had heard of me and the walk before leaving Paris,” June said. “Sometimes the human element has more impact than all the written documentation.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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