Reef protection is robust: industry

The shipping and port industry defends port development and planning processes which protect the Great Barrier Reef

Reef protection is robust: industry
Reef protection is robust: industry

By Anna Game-Lopata | June 6, 2012

Coinciding with World Environment Day today, the shipping and port industry
has defended
port development and planning processes, which
already take protection of the Great Barrier Reef into consideration.

The industry
was responding to a UNESCO report which threatens to declare the World Heritage-listed reef "in danger", unless Australia agrees to assess the impact of rapid port development.

The report also argues Australia needs to heighten conservation measures for the reef and make substantial changes to reef supervision by February, 2013.

Following the release of the report on the weekend, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced the state would work with the commonwealth to form a port strategy within 12 months.

But the Australian Shipowners Association (ASA) says there are a number of measures already in place to ensure the protection of the reef.

ASA Executive Director Theresa Lloyd says current planning processes are very robust.

"If there is more the industry needs to take in to account, no one would have a problem with that," she says.

"We all want to see the reef protected and processes in place to ensure that happens."

"The ASA believes shipping and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

"Shipping is an environmentally friendly industry. If you look at the numbers, accidents and spills are actually very rare."

"However we are happy to be involved if the government and industry agrees measures need to be increased. There is no reason shipping and reef protection shouldn’t be complimentary."

While the UNESCO report raises concerns over the speed of development, Lloyd adds the pace of environment approvals and regulation to enable infrastructure expansion to meet growth is actually very slow.

"For example, approvals for dredging to widen ports can take a long time which is a cause of concern for the port and shipping industry," she says.

"These processes need to be streamlined or improved to keep Australia competitive.

"Most people would agree Australia needs to continue exporting its wealth, which puts some pressure on the reef.

"However, UNESCO’s concerns are just a matter of good management."

The closest significant industrial and mining port to the reef, the Port of Gladstone points to its environmental policy, which it says ensures development activities affecting the reef such as dredging,
are managed "by setting planning objectives over a planning horizon of 50 years and beyond".

"We are required under both federal and state legislation to mitigate any possible environmental impacts through a very high level of offsets," a spokesperson for Gladstone Port Authority says.

"Our offsets would satisfy the most rigorous of tests."

The Port Authority would not comment on the UNESCO report, and says the need for a port strategy in Queensland to assess and mitigate risks to the reef is a "question is best asked of both the state and federal governments".

"The federal government has required all ports to develop a 50 year strategic plan," the spokesperson says.

"We are currently awaiting federal government’s mandate on our 50 year strategic plan."

A deepwater port, the Port of Gladstone is Queensland’s largest multi-commodity port being a significant exporter of coal, Ammonium Nitrate, Magnesia, Aluminium, Break Bulk, Cement, Grain and other commodities.

Total port throughput for 2010/11 was 76.4 mega tonnes and is predicted to be 93.8 Mt in the 2011/12 year.

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