Over 1 million tons of dredged sludge to be dumped in Great Barrier Reef Park

A controversial measure to dump more than 1 million tons of dredge spoil within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef marine park has reportedly been approved by authorities in Australia.

Environmentalists worry the move could potentially disrupt one the most fragile ecosystems in the world.

According to The Guardian, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) granted conditional approval late last month for the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which is a leading port authority that is responsible for facilities at the several of Australia's working ports, to continue to dump maintenance dredge spoil within the boundaries of the marine park.

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Australian Senator Larissa Waters, who is a member of the country’s Greens party, called for the permit, which would allow maintenance dredging to take place at Mackay’s Hay Point for up to 10 years, to be revoked in a statement to the international news agency, saying: “One million tons of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip." 

As the news agency notes, the Australian government banned the disposal of dredge spoil near the ecosystem in 2015 amid mounting concerns from environmental activists. However, the ban only reportedly applied to capital dredging.

But maintenance dredging at ports, which is practiced in order to remove built up sediment from shipping lanes, is reportedly not subjected to the ban. 

Waters told the publication that “government policy needs to change to ban all offshore dumping,” however.

“Government policy needs to change to ban all offshore dumping, so GBRMPA is not allowed to permit the reef’s waters to be used as a cheaper alternative to treating the sludge and disposing of it safely onshore,” she continued.

Waters also cited concerns over the impact the approved maintenance drudging could have on the marine environment after flooding hit both north and central Queensland with heavy amounts of sediments just days before the marine park authority issued the permit.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” Waters said.

However, the North Queensland Bulk Ports said in a statement online shortly after being granted the permit that it had to meet conditions that protect the marine environment in order to receive the permit. 

“Maintenance dredging at the Port of Hay Point is critical for maintaining port infrastructure. Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively,” the port authority said in the statement.