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Tourism industry outrage over decision to dump on Reef

February 3, 2014 Headline News, Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Great Barrier Reef tour operators are horrified by a decision to allow nearly 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil to be dumped in the the reef’s marine park area.

They say it will damage tourism in the region and tarnish Australia’s international reputation.

Dumping sludge inside the marine park has been compared to tipping trash into the Grand Canyon. It has touched a nerve. Petitions are already circulating and legal battle plans are being drawn up. An online petition organised by action group GetUp has already gathered well over a quarter-million signatures. The group is also gathering funds for a legal challenge.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association, Dive Queensland and Queensland Tourism Industry Council have written to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)  expressing grave concerns about the decision. They had urged GBRMPA to ban any dumping  inside the boundaries of the famous marine park.

Tourism Australia Great Barrier Reef ad

The Great Barrier Reef features in this Tourism Australia ad

Now GBRMPA has approved the dumping, marine tourism operators are reportedly threatening to sue. Colin McKenzie, president of the Association of Marine Park Tour Operators, told Fairfax Radio that his group may take legal action.

GBRMPA says safeguards will run alongside the dumping, including long-term water quality monitoring and compensation for commercial fishing operators. Tour operators, yacht charter companies and other tourism concerns remain unconvinced.

Jan Klaxton, co-owner and operator of Ocean Rafting, a 2013 Whitsunday Tourism Awards winner, was shocked to hear of GBRMPA’s decison.

“We take over 100 people a day out to visit the wonderful Whitsunday Islands. And we go snorkelling and bushwalking and return them as happy people, having learnt something about our reef and our Whitsunday Islands.”

Klaxton told ABC News she had thought GBRMPA would ban the dumping.  “If they were considering the environment, they wouldn’t even give them an option of dumping dredge spoil in the reef.”

The decision has generated bad publicity around the world. “Australia will dump millions of tonnes of sludge inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park so that it can export more coal,” the New Scientist wrote yesterday. The headline on Britain’s high-traffic Daily Mail online site yesterday was: “The death of the Great Barrier Reef? Dredge dumping near fragile coral is approved.”

The decision brings Australia a step closer to seeing the reef added to a list of endangered World Heritage sites . In June, the World Heritage Committee will decide whether to add the Great Barrier Reef to its list of iconic global sites officially considered to be in danger. Publicity from the reef dumping decision, let alone any “in danger” classification, could damage Great Barrier Reef tourism, which Deloitte Access Economics has estimated employs more than 64,000 people and brings in AUD 6.4 billion a year to Australia in direct spending.

Ecotourism Australia chief executive Rod Hillman says he believes the dredging decision will affect more than just reef tourism.

His statement to the ABC is worth quoting:

“You look at all the marketing collateral and the campaigns that Tourism Australia use, and the main feature is Australia’s natural advantage; we’ve got all these national parks, we’ve got the unique animals, fantastic landscapes.

“People will only read the headlines from overseas, they will see that these kinds of decisions seem to be saying that the Australian Government doesn’t care.

“So if the Australian Government doesn’t care, why should they?”

The lead up to the decision over the past two months was as follows, according to a timeline published by the academic website The Conversation:

  • 10 December 2013 – granting approval for the Abbot Point port expansion.
  • 13 December 2013 – reaching a revised agreement with the Queensland government (signed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman) for a “one-stop shop” on environmental approvals, including decisions about “actions on state land and state waters that impact on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park”.
  • 20 December 2013 – approving the Galilee Coal and Rail Project, allowing for six new mines and a railway from the mine sites (400km inland) to Abbot Point.
  • 31 January 2014 – GBRMPA signs off on the deal to allow sludge from Abbot Point to be dumped within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

All of those decisions could have long-term ramifications for the health and tourism value of the reef.

Written by Peter Needham

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