CAFNEC says it has become apparent that in 2014 Ports North dumped more dredging spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park than their GBRMPA permit allows for in a normal year.
CAFNEC said the dumping permit allows for 350,000 tonnes dry weight or 550,000 cubic metres of wet load dredge spoil to be dumped in the Marine Park each year for maintenance dredging in Cairns Port.
However, this amount was exceeded in 2014 and Ports North have drawn on a provision in the permit that allows exceeding this level of dumping for ‘contingency dredging’ in response to cyclones and extreme weather events.
The amount by which the normal permit conditions have been exceeded is unclear, with both Ports North and GBRMPA so far refusing to release to the public reporting required under the permit conditions.
Background information on Cairns maintenance dredging was recently provided to a senate committee inquiry as a response to a question on notice. This includes a more detailed briefing on levels of maintenance dredging, amounts of sediment suspended, recent variation to the GBRMPA dumping permit and a copy of the revised permit.
CAFNEC Marine Programmes Coordinator Josh Coates said: “We have become aware that in 2014 Ports North exceeded the amount of maintenance dredge spoil dumping allowed in a normal year. There is an allowance in the permit for extra dumping in response to cyclones and the like, but we didn’t see weather events in 2013-2014 that we think should warrant the activation of these provisions.”
“Regardless of how much exactly was dumped in 2014 it is clear that between 400,000 and 1 million cubic metres of dredge spoil has been dumped from Cairns Port in our Marine Park every year since 1991. This comes at considerable cost to the tax payer and the environment.”
“We need to be looking at better ways to manage our existing maintenance dredge spoil disposal before even considering new dredging and increased annual maintenance dredging as a result of the ill-conceived shipping channel expansion proposal. We know that around half of what is dumped in the Marine Park does not stay on the dump site and instead drifts away to impact on our seagrasses, reefs and marine ecosystem.“
“Even onshore dumping of dredge spoil comes with problems of expense, exposure of acid sulphate soils, suspension of dredge spoil during dredging and terrestrial and marine environmental damage. These impacts are made worse if unsuitable sites such as mangroves or wetlands like East Trinity are chosen for dumping. The last thing we want to be doing at this stage in increasing the amount we have to dredge in Cairns each year.”
“We are not opposed to continuing the maintenance dredging program, we just want to make sure the problem is not made worse by new dredging, and that we work toward better management of the existing dredging.”
“We are calling on Government to abandon the unnecessary new dredging proposal, rule out mass dumping on our wetland environments such as East Trinity, and instead focus on activities that improve water quality and support our tourism industry in ways that do not harm the precious environment our tourists come here to appreciate.”