Australia Approves One Million Tons of Sludge to be Dumped near Great Barrier Reef
The Australian Government approved plans to dump 1.1 million tons of sludge near the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef, a global heritage site off the coast of Australia, has already been impacted by climate change and pollution.
Although there are strict laws to limit where waste can be disposed of, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved plans that allow sludge to be dumped from Hay Point, a locality of Queensland and one of the world’s largest coal exporters. Although Australia banned the dumping of sludge within the Great Barrier Reef’s boundaries in 2015, this only applies to new or capital projects, and not to “materials generated from port maintenance work.”
The ten-year GBRMPA permit was granted to the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, for the dumping of sludge within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park every three to five years. The permit was granted less than a month after runoff from extensive flooding, which contained nitrogen and pesticide chemicals, spewed into the Reef. However, the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation responded saying that the risks to the Great Barrier Reef are low.
In recent years, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced multiple “bleachings,” where major parts of the coral reef have died off. According to a study by Nature, these events have caused the collapse of 29% of 3,863 reefs in the coral reef system. These bleachings have been attributed to heat stress, brought on by higher water temperatures in the region. The bleaching of 2016 was the most devastating in the Reef’s history, and scientists expect the severity of these bleaching events to increase as climate change progresses.
Environmental Activists warn that the sludge could cause irreversible damage to the reef, but the harm can be mitigated depending on the method and timing of the dumping. Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton says that if the sludge is dumped far enough off-shore, the damage to the coral reef would be minimal, although the method would cost more. Further, avoiding dumping in the summer would prevent algae overgrowth, which could also impact the coral.
Larissa Waters, a senator for the Australia Green Party, hopes to get the permit revoked. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently.”