The Australian state of Queensland is banning all new Great Barrier Reef ports under some of the “toughest laws in the world”.
Development Minister, Anthony Lynham, says the laws back up the Queensland government’s Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan. The Sustainable Ports Bill will stop new ports being built along the entire reef coast. Instead, all port development will be concentrated in four priority ports - Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbot Point and Townsville.
Dr Lynham says any new development will be restricted to within those port limits. Mandatory masterplans will be drawn up for each existing priority port to ensure any expansion is sustainable, he said. The proposed laws also ban the dumping of dredge spoil in the ocean and instead promote the beneficial reuse of spoil. If reuse isn’t possible, the laws allow for the dumping of spoil on land.
Queensland Resources Council CEO, Michael Roche said, the laws were among the toughest in the world and would set a new international benchmark. But he also said the bill would make the operation of ports more complex and come at an economic cost to the state.
Mr Roche warned the new dredging rules would make some necessary port developments too costly or force them to be scaled back. “While the bill’s requirements are onerous and exacting, the resources sector recognises they are in keeping with the Queensland Government’s commitments contained in Reef 2050 - the reef long term sustainability plan,” he added. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee recently made a draft decision to leave the Great Barrier Reef off its “in-danger” list. Conservation group WWF said the proposed laws were a good start but urged the government to go further. WWF Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, said barge-to-ship coal loading, known as trans-shipping, and dumping dredge spoil from marina development in the ocean should also be banned.
“The World Heritage Committee has put Australia on probation,” he said. Industry body Ports Australia is alarmed by these developments and has raised concerns about throughput being choked at key coal terminals. Queensland is key to the export of Australian coal, but also handles smaller, but still substantial, consignments of grain and sugar. Ports Australia is concerned that coal terminals are close to capacity and with larger coal ships visiting the state, coal throughput only can be maintained by extensive capital dredging. The group believes a better option would be to continue with the use of designated Dredge Material Placement Areas near main shipping channels.