Australia has cancelled a plan to dump as much as 5 million tonnes of sludge in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, New Scientist has reported. The sludge that was to be dumped is due to be dredged from the expansion of a seaport at Abbot Point in Queensland. The port is being expanded to cater for greater coal exports from $16 billion worth of new coal projects.
The sludge would have been dumped about 25km from the Great Barrier Reef, and many were concerned it would have harmed fragile corals and seagrasses in the delicate marine park environment.
The dumping of the sludge was previously approved by Australian environment minister Greg Hunt, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. There has since been strong community resistance, including from conservation groups and scientists, and now the consortium backing the coal port expansion has ditched the plan.
A spokesperson for Greg Hunt has told New Scientist that new proposals to dispose of the dredged sediment on land are expected. However, scientists “have little confidence that any new plan will be properly examined,” New Scientist maintains.
The existing port is surrounded by a beach, wetlands, and a mountain, so it’s unlikely there will be an appropriate local site to store the material before it’s transported elsewhere. One option that has been put forward is a long jetty where ships can dock. Jon Brodie, from James Cook University in Townsville, has said this would remove the need for dredging.