Monday, February 3, 2014
DUMPING ON WORLD HERITAGE
It is just unbelievable, totally inconceivable that anyone can consider the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of mud into a World Heritage site is acceptable: yes 3 million. The blurb accompanying this announcement to dump dredged sludge into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park explains that it will be dumped 24 kilometers away: away from what and where is uncertain, but it is ‘away,’ suggesting perhaps that this elsewhere has no problems associated with it because of this distance. It is ‘not in my backyard,’ so one should apparently not worry.
It is as though there is this one spot in this special place that has been identified for this material to be ‘relocated.’ No one mentions the true scope and scale of this dumping beyond ‘3 million,’ a figure that can be expressed in a few rhythmic sounds - three in fact. The ‘3 million’ statement becomes almost happily singsong as it chirpily conceals its gravity. The size of this mud waste needs to be demythologized. It is equivalent to an area 3 kilometres, by 1 kilometre, by one metre deep: yes, 3k x 1k x 1 metre. Think of a place; now think of a place 3 kilometres away: consider a band of land one kilometre wide linking these locations, then fill this area with mud one metre deep. This is what is going to be dumped on our World Heritage site; and the explanation by way of justification is that the dumpsite is 24 kilometres away! The mud could easily stretch this distance if it were 100mm deep. Who is to say that it will not become 50mm deep as it disperses throughout the swirling waters, reaching up to 60 kilometres with a width of one kilometre? The figures are such that this volume of dumping would cover the whole of World Heritage Springbrook National Park with over 100mm depth of mud.
If one thinks of a spot 24 kilometres away that is 10 metres x10 metres, then the pile of waste will be 30kilometres high. Make it 100 metres x 100 metres, and the pile is 300 metres high. Try 1 kilometre x 1 kilometre and the solid pile is 3metres high, higher than the ceiling in a standard residential dwelling space. But this dumped material is far more likely to spread thinly. At 1mm thick, the sludge will cover an area 30 kilometres by 100 kilometres. There seems to be little hope of the mud missing much in the ocean, for at even thinner thicknesses, say half a milllimetre, a thickness sufficient to form a messy scum on surfaces, the area is 60 kilometres by 100 kilometres. Is there a naïve presumption that the dumped mud will stay exactly where it is thrown?
But we are told that there are conditions! One can only say “So what?” Conditions have rarely proved to be of any value for any approval. Conditions merely facilitate approvals and beginnings. They deflect criticism and objections. They are seldom enforced with rigour. What happens when the worst does eventuate? No number of conditions can help here. Look at the Gladstone bund that has leaked. One is left literally with mud in one’s face and everywhere else too; and then the blurb starts yet again, spruiking on about the ‘world’s best practice clean up’ etc., etc.; again all with the ‘world’s most strict conditions,’ etc., etc., as if words are all that might be needed here. A new set of conditions just gets approved, with old ones adjusted or altered silently in private meetings, secretly, after the first ‘strict conditions’ are claimed to be too onerous, unworkable; or have been ignored, or simply flouted. The justification is that “It’s for Australia’s future,” etc., etc., as if this bleating might help any muddy mess. The implication is that a pristine area has no value in any future. The stupid assumption is that ‘pristine’ can stay pristine in any circumstances and in any situation, even after dumping. Sadly, we are getting too used to playing games with words.
It seems to be forgotten that this mud is being dumped into water, dropped into turbulence and creating more. It will and can go anywhere tide and time might choose to take it. It would be ironic if it washed right back to where it started. It obviously liked it there and was happy to remain in this location! It is likely that it will have to be removed continually, such could be its fondness for this place. Do conditions know about tides and times? One has to apologise to the artist Andy Goldsworthy whose work is presented on a DVD titled Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time. His work does consider the subtle forces of nature in a most beautiful and considered manner. Those who have approved this devastation need to learn from Goldsworthy’s work - his care and attention to nature, its forces and details: his love and understanding for these.
Draw a rectangle to scale 3kilometres x 1 kilometre and place it over any Word Heritage site in the world: consider, for example, Uluru; Chartres; the Taj Mahal. Look carefully at the size, the scale and consider the impact of a one metre mud cover. Being under water will not improve things. As the mud thins out, the area multiplies. At 10mm thick, it covers an area 30 kilometres by 10 kilometres. Try this size on the map. Amazingly our minister says that water quality will only improve with this dumping! This is surely one of the most cynical decisions ever seen.
How can anyone consider this sensible, especially those whose responsibility it is to properly manage our World Heritage places? We seem to be digging enough holes in our landscape with our endless mining. Why not fill these up with 3 million cubic metres of fill? Use the rail lines that serve this port to transport the mud back into these hollows. Why do we see our oceans as dumps? Is it just ‘out of sight out of mind’? Why do we think that by chucking 3 million cubic metres of fill into any ocean anywhere is acceptable? Gosh, would we throw this quantity of fill into any forest, let alone a World Heritage one, even if the soil type were identical? One needs to ask if the dredging itself is a good idea. It will have impacts; it must have. What; where; what extent? etc. Is it known? Does anyone care?
Why do we get blinded with economic statistics and visions of easy wealth with the promise of the continuation of the free ride on the sheep's back? This lazy Aussie way of being layback and doing bugger all, with a stubby nearby while watching cricket, footy or tennis as the rest of the world buys our raw materials, is questionable; objectionable? Why are we happy to just dig more and more, flog it and buy everything from elsewhere cheaply, supplied as if from slave labour, while we enjoy all of those indulgences that make dull gents and ladies of us all? There are 3 million reasons why this dumping must not happen.
We need to work harder with a commitment to ideals if we are to succeed in creating a better world. The question is: what is the true value of our World Heritage reef for Australia and the world? It may be too late to find out; but who cares? Our Prime Minister stands like the ‘MAD’ icon of the past, ears akimbo, saying with a nodding head and waving arms in sync, “What, me worry?” twice or three times consecutively, somewhat mindlessly like a cockatoo, as if we might be deaf or dumb. Yes, I am sorry to tell you sir, that this dumping is a real worry. It must not happen. Why not grasp the other popular smug cliché of the political right that is used as the ultimate putdown for making workers achieve impossibilities: “You will just have to work smarter.” Do not dump on the reef. Just try, try and try again to get a more creative solution to things so that stupid concessions and conclusions become a thing of the past. And all of this is to export more coal!!! There certainly is a rampaging greed, an irrational madness here: cynical economics. The irony is that this same government is talking about paying indigenous folk to plant trees to improve the environment - as if it cares about anything but its own political power.
If no one will listen, then UNESCO must declare the reef to be under threat, ‘IN DANGER,’ for it appears that it will be: it is! Sadly this might only improve tourism, with everyone wanting to see the reef before it has gone. Such is our stupid world: see - http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/who-or-what-is-tourist.html This looks like a very slippery slope, a very dirty one too. One could say that everything involved in this matter is just muddying the waters, metaphorically and literally.
A FEW ARTICLES ON THE SUBJECT:
Great Barrier Reef authority approves dredging and dumping to expand port
Australian marine park authority grants approval with strict conditions in decision met with derision by conservation groups
The Guardian, Friday 31 January 2014 16.05 AEST
Three million cubic metres of sediment from dredging to expand a coal port will be dumped in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, after the park authority approved the move on Friday.
The spoil resulting from the Abbot Point port project is to be dumped 24km away at a location near Bowen in north Queensland.
The expansion, which hinged on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's approval of the dumping, means an extra 70m tonnes of coal each year, worth between $1.4bn and $2.8bn, will go through the port, which is also a gateway to the world heritage-listed reef.
The authority granted approval with strict conditions on Friday afternoon.
The authority chairman, Dr Russell Reichelt, said he recognised the amount of debate and community concern the project had generated and shared with everyone a strong desire to ensure the reef remained a great natural wonder into the future.
“This approval is in line with the agency’s view that port development along the Great Barrier Reef coastline should be limited to existing ports,” Reichelt said.
“As a deepwater port that has been in operation for nearly 30 years, Abbot Point is better placed than other ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline to undertake expansion as the capital and maintenance dredging required will be significantly less than what would be required in other areas.
“It’s important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds.”
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation had applied to dump within the Great Barrier Reef marine park and, although the authority was asked to make a decision within 10 days of the environment minister, Greg Hunt, approving the project in December, it asked for an extension.
North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation is also expected to come up with an alternative site that is also expected to be within the marine park.
The corporation has maintained flora and fauna are unlikely to be damaged by the dumping, with the water perhaps becoming cloudy for a short period of time, but the UN body Unesco is reviewing the decision.
The corporation says it would be more environmentally damaging to dump the spoil on land.
World Wildlife Fund Great Barrier Reef campaigner Richard Leck said it was a sad day for the reef and anyone who cared about its future.
“Federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to show leadership on this issue,” he said. “Mr Hunt could have stopped the dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters instead he gave dumping the green light.
“The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations.”
The committee is meeting in Doha in June when it might list the reef as world heritage in danger.
Greenpeace has previously said any dumping of spoil on the reef would be an "international embarrassment".
"We wouldn't throw rubbish on world heritage sites like the Grand Canyon or the Vatican City, so why would we dump on the reef?" said a spokeswoman, Louise Matthiesson.
"Scientists are clear that the potential impacts of dumping the dredge spoil so close to fringing reefs and the WWII Catalina plane wreck are significant."
Great Barrier Reef campaign director with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Felicity Wishart, said: “Most Australians will be shocked and angry at this decision by the marine park authority and minister Hunt to allow dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters.
“Across the board, people expect them to defend the reef, not approve its destruction.”
Among 47 new environmental conditions imposed by the authority with the approval were:
• Measures to minimise impact on biodiversity, particularly coral.
• A long-term water quality monitoring plan extending five years after the disposal activity is completed.
• A heritage management plan to protect the Catalina second world war aircraft wreck in Abbot Bay.
• Offset measures for commercial fishing in the event of adverse impacts.
• The prevention of any harm to environmental, cultural and heritage values of any areas 20 kilometres beyond the disposal site.
• Environmental site supervision by an authority nominee.
• The establishment of an independent dredging and disposal technical advice panel and a management response group, to include community representatives.