Controversial dredge spoil dumping in and around the Great Barrier Reef has not been ruled out as part of a government plan designed to ensure the reef’s long-term sustainability.
The move has angered conservationists, who say the government’s Reef 2050 report – released on Monday in response to UNESCO concerns – does not do enough to protect the underwater icon.
The joint Australian and Queensland government report lists more than 100 specific actions that need to be taken to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years.
One of them is to prohibit dredging within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area for the next 10 years, but that provision excludes priority port development areas.
“There are a number of ports that have ongoing maintenance dredging,” Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said.
“They may still require to dispose of this at sea.”
Greens senator Larissa Waters said the loophole meant the reef was not protected from dredging and dumping projects in Cairns, Townsville and Gladstone – ports UNESCO’s world heritage committee had already expressed concern about.
“The Abbott and Newman governments are once again giving the big mining companies absolutely everything they want, while trying to fool the rest of us into thinking something has changed,” she said.
Conservationists have also raised concerns about a lack of concrete funding announced for reef protection.
However, Mr Powell said there was already a range of funding streams totalling about $180 million a year, and the plan would focus the investment on key areas.
One of the main focuses would be on improving water quality, he said.
“We all know that it has been water quality that has caused the decline in the reef over the last three decades,” Mr Powell said.
But he said port development was not the only reason and a reduction in pesticide runoff into the reef would also help water quality.
The Queensland Resources Council has backed the report, saying it “identifies the vital steps that must be taken … to protect the reef for future generations”.
The Reef 2050 report was commissioned after UNESCO demanded Australia come up with a long-term plan to safeguard the reef, as authorities consider whether to list it as a World Heritage site in danger.
The public will be able to comment on the plan in the next six weeks.
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THE REEF REPORT:
* Australian Marine Conservation Society: the plan does not minimise dredging and ban dumping in the World Heritage area
* WWF Australia: does not provide the billions of dollars needed to restore reef’s health
* Greens: does nothing to stop onslaught of dredging and dumping already applied for
* Queensland Resources Council: sets a new course for turning around the reef’s health.