Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors. Darren Jew

Dumping of dredge spoil approved for Great Barrier Reef

THE Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the dumping of almost 380,000 cubic metres of dredge spoil in the reef's World Heritage Area, as part of maintenance dredging near Mackay.

Coming less than two weeks out from a World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha that will discuss the status of the reef as a World Heritage Site, the approval has angered environmentalists.

But the project, which will see no more than 208,000 cubic metres dredged per year for the next three years, pales in comparison to the controversial approval to dump 3 million cubic metres in the marine park near Abbot Point.

A spokeswoman for the marine park authority confirmed the permit - approved in early May - would see 82,000 cubic metres of sediment dumped inside the marine park with the remainder to be dumped in the World Heritage Area.

The proponent, North Queensland Bulk Ports, said the approval was for "routine maintenance", with plans to start "later in 2014" and that the work would be overseen by a technical advisory committee.

But North Queensland Conservation Council's Wendy Tubman, who is involved in a challenge to the recent Abbot Point approval in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, was not convinced by assurances.

She said the latest in a string of approvals made a "mockery" of suggestions that the authority and the governments involved in such assessments were doing their best to protect the reef.

"The Federal Government is taking both the community, which has made patently clear its disapproval of sea dumping, and UNESCO ... for a ride," she said.

"Australia is required by law to limit disposal of waste, including dredge spoil, into the ocean.

"Yet over and over again we see virtually automatically approval for sea dumping of dredge spoil."

The ports corporation said the approval, valid for three years from May, will also engage James Cook University specialists to complete water quality monitoring in the area from July this year.

The maintenance dredging application, the marine park authority spokeswoman said, was to maintain "navigable depths of existing shipping channels".

It is un-related to an application already before the authority for the dumping of 5.6 million cubic metres of dredge spoil at the Port of Townsville, which currently being assessed.