ABC TV Four Corners, 7 November 2011
Great Barrier Grief
By Marian Wilkinson and Clay Hichens
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Thirty
years ago, Australia willingly made the Reef a World Heritage Area. That listing was
intended to protect the Reef. Any changes to its management, or developments that
might affect it, should be notified in advance to the World Heritage Committee.
In this report, Marian Wilkinson travels to Queensland to assess claims that at
least six major port developments – either being planned or currently underway –
could potentially put the Reef in jeopardy and destroy industries, like fishing,
that rely on their proximity to it.
Coal seam gas is a massive undertaking. It’s estimated there are now close to 4,000
wells in Queensland. That number will grow tenfold over the next 20 years. The plan
is to take a lot of that gas to Curtis Island, off Gladstone in the World Heritage
Area, where it will be processed and exported.
To service the huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and expand its coal loading
capacity, Gladstone Ports Corporation is now undertaking the biggest dredging
operation ever attempted inshore from the Great Barrier Reef.
Part of the spoil dredged up will be taken out to sea to a dump site within one
kilometre of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Reporter Marian Wilkinson examines why the Federal Government did not tell the World
Heritage Committee in advance about the planned port expansion, given the potential
to impact on the World Heritage Area.
She also investigates what impact the dredging will have on marine life around
Gladstone Harbour and how it might affect the Reef. She speaks to local fishermen
who believe the dredging is responsible for a startling outbreak of fish disease in
the Harbour waters. And she questions Government officials who say the water is fine
and the disease is a result of natural causes.
The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is just one area feeling the pressure.
Hay Point, near Mackay, is in line for a massive port expansion that will see
another dredging and dumping operation that could affect the Reef. Port Alma, at the
mouth of the Fitzroy River near Great Keppel Island, is also looking to expand and
Bathurst Bay, north of Cooktown, could be the site for a big new coal loading
facility in the pristine waters of the Northern Reef.
Experts warn this expansion will lead to a substantial increase in shipping through
the Reef, increasing the possibility of groundings and oil spills in the Great
Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
‘Great Barrier Grief’, presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 7th
November at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on Tuesday 8th November at 11.35pm. It
can also be seen on ABC News 24 <http://www.abc.net.au/news/abcnews24/> at 8.00pm
Saturdays, on ABC iview <http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/four%20corners> or
This is the final Four Corners for 2011. We will return in on Monday 6 February,
2012. In the meantime you can revisit selected Four Corners from the past 50 years,
on ABC News 24<http://www.abc.net.au/news/abcnews24/>, commencing Saturday 19
November at 8pm. You can also visit the special 50 Years of Four
Corners<http://abc.net.au/4corners/50years/> website for many more programs,
interviews and stories from the program’s archive.