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.