Great Barrier Grief

7 11 2011


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 <> at 8.00pm

Saturdays, on ABC iview <> 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<>, commencing Saturday 19

November at 8pm. You can also visit the special 50 Years of Four

Corners<> website for many more programs,

interviews and stories from the program’s archive.





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