A scientist has questioned whether banning dredge spoil from being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef is enough.
A scientist has questioned whether banning dredge spoil from being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef is enough. Contributed

Dredging, not dumping, should be main focus: scientist

THE dumping of dredge spoil from port development has been a contentious issue, but a scientist says we have been focusing on the wrong aspect.

The dredging itself was harmful to the Great Barrier Reef and marine life, reef scientist Selina Ward said, and she had photos to prove it.

In a lecture about the Great Barrier Reef in Brisbane, Ms Ward showed pictures of Gladstone's harbour - one of the state's largest ports - before and after it was dredged.

There were gasps from the audience as they viewed a perfectly blue ocean against one that had turned brown in the next picture.

The dumping of dredge spoil in the ocean has been an ongoing contentious issue, especially from the proposed expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen.

Several options were tossed around for the dumping of the spoil from this project, including in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, wetlands near the port and - the most recent choice - an industrial site near the terminal.

The Queensland Government has also recently introduced a bill to ban dredge spoil from being dumped in the reef's World Heritage area.

But Ms Ward questioned whether this was enough.


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"I think we're focusing a lot on the spoil and we're not really considering the ills of the actual dredging process itself," she said.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche previously stated that ports were vital to Australia's future and that living standards and quality of life depended on the country's trading performance.

He said ports were vital, along with the dredging that kept them safe and improved efficiency.

Mr Roche said dredging and seabed placement continued to be misrepresented as an environmental threat by activists who wanted to shut down Queensland's coal and gas industry.

However, Ms Ward said dredging at Miami in the United States without any dumping had caused high mortality in corals. She said plumes were created when dredging occurred and these covered coral and seagrass and limited the amount of sunlight they received.

Dredge spoil from port expansion has been banned from being dumped in the marine park, but Ms Ward said there was no clarity over maintenance dredging of current ports.