Image above: The resource issue of dredging to develop a coal port at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Related links to Spatialworlds
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
Background on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
ABC 4 Corners program on the issue
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is responsible for ensuring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park – one of the world's greatest natural treasures - is protected for the future.
An ecosystem based approach is used, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is widely recognised as one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world.
The Marine Park is a multiple-use area that supports a range of communities and industries that depend on the Reef for recreation or their livelihoods. Tourism, fishing, boating and shipping are all legitimate uses of the Marine Park.
The entire Marine Park is covered by a Zoning Plan that identifies where particular activities are permitted and where some are not permitted.
The Zoning Plan separates conflicting uses, with 33 per cent of the Marine Park afforded marine national park status where fishing and collecting is not permitted.
In high use areas near Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands, special Plans of Management are in place in addition to the underlying Zoning Plan,
In addition, other Special Management Areas have been to created for particular types of protection, such as the Dugong Protection Areas.
The GBRMPA coordinates a range of activities to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef. They are focused on 12 broad management topics:
- Biodiversity protection
- Climate change
- Coastal development
- Commercial marine tourism
- Fishing (commercial and recreational)
- Ports and shipping
- Recreation (not including fishing)
- Scientific research
- Traditional use of marine resources
- Water quality.
Background on the dredging and dumping for a Coalport in Great Barrier Reef area
The nub of this issue is that in December 2013, Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, approved a plan for dredging to create three shipping terminals as part of the construction of a coalport at Abbot Point. According to corresponding approval documents, the process will create around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed that will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area. On 31 January 2014, the GBRMPA issued a dumping permit that will allow three million cubic metres of sea bed from Abbot Point, north of Bowen, to be transported and unloaded in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Potential significant harms have been identified in relation to dredge spoil and the process of churning up the sea floor in the area and exposing it to air. New research shows the finer particles of dredge spoil can cloud the water and block sunlight, thereby starving sea grass and coral up to distances of 80 km away from the point of origin due to the actions of wind and currents. Furthermore, dredge spoil can literally smother reef or sea grass to death, while storms can repeatedly re-suspend these particles so that the harm caused is ongoing. It is also proposed that a disturbed sea floor can release toxic substances into the surrounding environment.
Commentators say that the decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has shocked and angered the scientific community. There seems to be deep divisions between the scientists and bureaucrats behind the decision. It seems that the dumping was approved despite previous recommendations from senior scientists that it be rejected.
"That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard." - Dr Charlie Veron, marine scientist
The Chairman of the Marine Park Authority denies the decision was political and the Federal Environment Minister insists it will take place under the strictest environmental conditions.
As you will see in the video, this certainly is an interesting and confusing debate re: the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and the development of infrastructure for resource development. The issue deconstruction template attached may be useful for students to clarify their thinking on the issue.
What will students think should happen?
Here are some great resources on the issue:
* ABC online
* ABC News, June 2014 on Abbot Point
* ABC News, July 2014
* Mining Australia website
* Sydney Morning Herald, March 2014
* Sydney Morning Herald, May 2014
* The conversation
* Australian Marine Conservation Society
* Canberra times, August 2014
* The Australian, December 2013
... and many more https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=abbot+point+dredging