NCWQ Environment Report, May 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser


Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): High sea surface temperatures continued into April resulting in unprecedented mass coral bleaching. This has been particularly severe in the Far Northern Region with aerial and underwater surveys showing substantial coral mortality in most inshore and midshell reefs. Thus it is of paramount importance that rising temperature be reduced. As the Chairman of the the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Dr Russel Reichelt, says this can only be achieved with global treaties which lower greenhouse gas emissions. At a regional level, the GBRMPA is working to build coral resiliency.

Projects reported previously such as those to improve water quality from agricultural catchments flowing into the GBR and curtail plagues of star fish are commendable and should help some reefs to recover but the global problem remains.

Cold Seam Gas (CSG): A recent dramatic video of a Greens Member of the NSW Upper Parliament setting light to methane seeping from the Condamine River has reignited the concern of the impact of CSG on groundwater. CSIRO researchers who have been studying methane seeps in the river since 2012 have stated that the seepage is unlikely to be caused by the CSG industry since methane had been known to leak out of naturally occurring fissures and there are at least four fissures in a 3km stretch of the Condamine River.

However the amount of gas seeping in that area has markedly increased in the past 12 months, a trend they suggest could be caused by a shift in sediment from the river bed, which would mean the gas was less dispersed, or could be the result of water that rushed into the alluvial aquifer during the 2011 Queensland floods slowly depleting, which would release the pressure and allow more methane to come to the surface.

The Condamine River Alluvial Aquifer is an exceptional good and reliable groundwater resource which helps make the Darling Downs very valuable for agriculture. However it overlies the Walloon Coal Measures, a coal deposit which has been exploited for coal and, more recently, for CSG. In 2012, the Queensland government found that the chemistry of the gas from the Condamine River gas seep is consistent with a source in the Surat Basin. UNSW researchers, Bryce Kelly and Charlotte Iverarch, agree the Condamine River gas seep could be natural as the gas seep occurs in the river reach just after a sharp change in flow direction which is consistent with the presence of a major geological fault. However, in April 2016, they measured maximum methane concentrations of 595 parts per million (ppm) from a site of a presumably abandoned leaking coal exploration well just 2.5 km north of the Condamine River gas seep. Since the average natural background concentration of methane for the region is 1.79 ppm, the continuously high concentration indicated a direct path between the coal measures and the ground surface. There are hundreds of abandoned exploration wells in Queensland and an unknown number in the Chinchilla region. A poorly documented abandoned well closer to the Condamine River could account for the gas seeps. During CSG production large volumes of water are extracted depressurising the coal seam and shifting the methane so it can be recovered. Over decades the zone of depressurisation will extend away from the gas production well and slowly depressurise nearby areas. Connections between the coal measures targeted for gas extraction and the groundwater need to be understood. To date, only 17 out of hundreds of geological faults and no abandoned leaky wells have been incorporated into the regional groundwater model used to assess the impact of CSG production.

Depending on CSG production and groundwater use, these could conceivably contribute to lowering the groundwater levels of the Great Artesian Basin and the Condamine River (, This provides further evidence of the vital need for further research, groundwater monitoring and mapping of gas seeps prior to CSG.

Update on Climate Change: The historic United Nations Paris agreement on climate change has been signed by 175 countries. For the treaty to become law, 55% of countries need to ratify it, and at least 55% of global emissions to be represented by those accepting countries. The agreement sets crucial goals to limit global temperature increases, and specific goals in three areas – mitigation, adaptation and finance. Mitigation includes a long-term goal – early peaking, balancing emissions and sinks with emissions to be reduced from 55 gigatonnes (Gt) to 40Gt in 2030.A new global adaptation goal aims to increase countries’ adaptive capacity and resilience. There are also aims to achieve a finance increase to US$100 billion per year post 2020. While the Paris agreement, as it stands, will not solve the ongoing problem of climate change, if momentum can be created the target of preventing warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees might be achieved. With global temperatures already at one degree warmer, and emissions continuing as strongly as ever, the world has to act quickly to achieve this target. USA and China, the world's biggest emitters of climate changing greenhouse gases, have said they will ratify the Paris deal this year and are pushing for others to follow suit so the agreement could become operational by the end of this year.

In Australia, ratifying the Paris agreement means tabling the document in Parliament and submitting it for scrutiny by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. However, Australia has bipartisan support for the agreement, so no impediments are expected. 22/what-happens- after-this- paris-climate- deal-is- signed/7350506 says-time-to-increase-climate-change-action/7389482?section=environment

A recent study which analysed 14 years of satellite data measuring the key climate variables of air temperature, water availability and cloud cover, has given a deeper insight into the impact of extreme events on ecosystems and which aspects of climate have been the most important in shaping different vegetation types around the world. The study confirmed that most of Australia was most sensitive to variability in water, rather than to temperature. But while there were areas of very high climate sensitivity in the east of Australia, the study showed inland ecosystems were among the world’s least sensitive to climate variability, particularly in terms of rainfall. 18/global-map- highlights-sensitivity-of-australian-

Sea-level rise, erosion and coastal flooding are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity from climate change. Coral islands are very dynamic landforms where waves and currents can change their shade by mobilising and depositing sand and gravel. If the sea level only rises 3-5 mm pa (global average 3mm pa), possibly islands could withstand the rise. However, in the Solomon Islands the sea has risen 7-10 mm pa since 1993. Some islands are exposed to higher wave energy. Of the 21 islands exposed, five completely disappeared and a further six islands eroded substantially. These rapid changes to shorelines have led to the relocation of several coastal communities that have inhabited these areas for generations Twelve islands in a low wave energy area experienced little noticeable change in shorelines despite being exposed to similar sea-level rise.

Microplastics: The impact of microplastics on the marine environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef has been reported previously. A team of Japanese researchers, led by Dr Shosuke Yoshida from the Kyoto Institute of Technology, have discovered a new species of bacteria that produces a plastic-eating enzyme. Hopefully this bacterium may help degrade some of the millions of tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics dumped each year 11/plastic-eating- bacterium-can- break-down- pet/7238614

Environment Report: November 2015

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser


National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference (11-13October): At the Conference, members voted unanimously for the following two Resolutions which relate to the Environment:-

  1. The NCW Australia urges all Federal, State, Territory and local governments to maintain clear, consistent and long-term support to the renewable energy industries, along with other emission reduction support, so as to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by the recommended 40-60% reduction based on 2000 levels by 2030.
  1. The NCW Australia urges the Federal Government to tackle the threat of microplastics by
  • Supporting research and monitoring programs,
  • Engaging with industry to decrease plastic waste, which involves decreasing production of throwaway packaging and increasing the content of recycled material in new plastic products,
  • Tightening biodegradability standards,
  • Promoting consumer education.

The National Coordinator for General Well-Being, Doreen Todd, convened a meeting of those National and State Advisers for Environment, Habitat, Health and Nutrition, who were in attendance at the Conference, to discuss aligning our work with UN Sustainable Development Goals. Discussions centred on

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Update on Climate Change: In support of the first resolution, the following information was collated prior to the Conference.

In preparation for the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 Governments including Australia have submitted an intended nationally determined contribution(INDC). The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a Consortium of four research organisations. {Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research}, tracks climate action and global efforts towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2°C, since 2009. Thirty two countries which cover about 80% of global emissions are tracked and their submitted INDCs assessed and rated, focusing on:

  • Impact of INDCs or other commitments on emissions in 2020, 2025 and 2030 and beyond.
  • Effect of current policies on emissions
  • Whether the INDCs is a fair share of global effort to limit warming below 2°C

Australia has been rated “inadequate”. Australia’s target is to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 26–28% from 2005 levels including land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) by 2030. After accounting for LULUCF, this target is equivalent to a range of around 5% below to 5% above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF in the year 2030. Australia has a large gap between current policy projections for 2030 and the INDC target. Of the nine industrialised countries assessed to date (Australia Canada, EU, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, USA) Australia ranks eighth on its projected rate of reduction in per capita emissions, exceeded only by Russia, and eighth on projected improvement in emissions intensity for the period from 2012 to 2030, with Canada ranking worst. The “inadequate” rating indicates that Australia’s commitment is not in line with most interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway: if most other countries followed the Australian approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.

CAT noted that had the Australian Climate Change Authority’s recommendations been adopted (an emissions reduction target of 30% below 2000 levels by 2025 (incl. LULUCF). 40–60% below 2000 levels (incl. LULUCF) by 2030) Australia would be much closer to being in line with 2°C and placing it in the “medium” category in 2030 instead of “inadequate”.

Australia’s electricity sector accounts for 33% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions with 90% of electricity production generated by burning fossil fuels (75% from coal). Giga-What? A guide to the Renewable Energy Target by Petra Stock (Climate Council of Australia)2015) Yet, Australia’s renewable energy resources are capable of producing 500 times the amount of electricity currently used. (Geoscience Australia and ABARE 2010; AEMO 2013b). A Productivity Commission review of more than 1,000 emissions reduction policies found that policies encouraging additional large-scale renewable electricity power plants were the second-most cost-effective set of policies after emissions trading schemes.

When Australia’s Renewable Energy Target(RET) was 41,000GWh large-scale renewable electricity annually by 2020 plus uncapped support for eligible small-scale solar and wind, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 22.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide- equivalent to 10 per cent of Australia’s annual electricity emissions. If the policy with that target had continued, the RET was estimated to reduce emissions by 58 million tonnes carbon dioxide (2015–2020) – equivalent to annual emissions from all of Australia’s passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. With the target now of 33000 GWh this could change but the fact remains that, the RET has increased the supply of renewable energy thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. Giga-What? A guide to the Renewable Energy Target by Petra Stock (Climate Council of Australia)2015)

As energy storage technologies are becoming more viable in Australia, wind and solar power should become more viable. A lithium-ion battery, Powerwall, is expected to sell in Australia next year for about $5,500 While currently batteries are considered the default form of electricity storage, at an industrial scale, there are promising technologies for particular applications and locations e.g. storage systems, such as flywheel and compressed air. Once energy storage can be cost-effectively deployed at a large scale, the implications for energy markets and energy security are immense.

Underground coal gasification (UCG): The Queensland Environment and Heritage Department (QEHD) has commenced proceedings alleging unlawful serious environmental harm, against a company in respect to its activities at its experimental underground coal gasification plant at Hopeland near Chinchilla. hopelands-update5.pdf UCG involves the burning of subterranean coal seams to convert the coal into a synthesis gas (primarily a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) which is the brought to the surface for use as fuel, fertilisers or chemical products. The QEHD alleges that toxic gas is leaking through underground pathways, polluting a massive area of subsoil two to six metres below ground level and has established a caution zone of approximately 320 square kilometres outside of the site itself where varying concentrations of these gases have been uncovered. The levels are considered to be high enough to cause health and safety risks and some of the land surrounding the site may no longer be able to be classified as strategic cropping land due to irreversible acidification of the soil and released toxic contaminants into water and air as well

Threats of contaminated water: In South West Queensland, a Texas silver mine company went into liquidation, and abandoned four large storage ponds full of water contaminated with cyanide and elevated levels of heavy metals such as copper, iron, manganese, zinc and nickel. The QEHD, local landholders and environmentalists were extremely concerned that as little as 40 millimetres of rain could trigger a spill from the site and send contaminated water into the nearby Dumaresq River, and from there into the McIntyre River and the Murray-Darling Basin, with disastrous results to ecosystems and rural industries. While the State has a $2 million bond from the failed company, the rehabilitation cost could be as high as $10 million dollars.; The QEHD and Department of Natural Resources and Mines (QNRM) have reduced the risk of a spill by pumping down one dam into a larger dam, freeing up additional storage space should the site receive significant rainfall. While there has been no discharge of the contaminated water into local waterways to date, cases such as this highlight the need for monitoring by Government and stringent emergency response plans to be funded by the companies and perhaps investigation into the use of such ponds.

Loss of public rights of appeal on underground water licences for mining companies: While the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (Qld) introduced some the positive changes including obligatory make good agreements, cumulative impact management, adequate monitoring and reporting obligations, loss of public rights of appeal on underground water licences for mining companies is a retrograde step. Public scrutiny of the impacts of major mines on groundwater could be seriously undermined. Will the public only learns of potential problems after a mishap?

Marine Debris in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area: As part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, volunteers have collected over 683,000 individual items of marine debris (discarded fishing gear, plastic and glass bottles, rubber thongs, aerosols and drink cans etc) weighing over 42 tonnes, from beaches in the Great Barrier Reef region between 2008 and 2014. During October 2015, 500 volunteers collected a further 4,000 kilograms.

A series of Future Leaders Eco Challenge (FLEC) events have or will take place in Palm Island, the Whitsundays, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Yeppoon, Mackay, Ingham, Bowen and the Burdekin, when teachers and over 127,000 students from 310 Reef Guardian schools will learn about marine debris and help clean up their local coastal environment.

Marine debris from the catchment generally appears to accumulate and be confined within the lagoon system of the Reef but with a northward movement. At the southern end of the Reef, debris appears to be more ocean-sourced. Large deposits of debris accumulating in the northern most parts of the Reef are of international origin. Could the Australian government help create international laws to stop the dumping of plastics in the oceans?

Environment Report: February 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser


Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): In response to widespread reports of minor bleaching of coral and forecasts by the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of adverse weather conditions sufficient to cause further bleaching, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has increased in-water field surveys and monitoring. Sea surface temperatures are fluctuating across the 345,000 square kilometres of Marine Park. In some areas the temperature has been exacerbated by lack of cloud cover and has ranged up to 2.5 degrees above the average for summer. Whether further bleaching happens depends on local weather conditions. Hopefully, cloud cover will provide shade and reduce heat absorption by the ocean and alleviate thermal stress on corals. Bleaching occurs when stress causes corals to expel tiny marine algae called zooxanthellae, which live inside their tissue and provide corals with much of their food and colour. While past bleaching events have shown coral reefs can recover if the thermal stress does not persist for prolonged periods, the importance of reducing global warming is surely paramount. Ocean-acidity levels will continue to increase as the ocean absorbs anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions Researchers at the University of Western Australian have shown that increasing ocean acidification can cause young corals to develop deformed and porous skeletons potentially making it more difficult for them to establish themselves on the reef and survive to adulthood. Foster, T., Falter, J.L., McCulloch, M.T. and Clode P.L. (2016) Ocean acidification causes structural deformities in juvenile coral skeletons. Science Advances  Vol.. 2, no. 2, e1501130DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501130. This research shows ocean acidification could have serious implication for the long term survival of the GBR.

Project Catalyst (a pioneering partnership between more than 70 innovative Queensland cane growers and major program partners – Reef Catchments, Terrain Natural Resource Management, NQ Dry Tropics, the Australian Government, WWF and The Coca-Cola Foundation) focuses on improving water quality from agricultural catchments flowing into the GBR by supporting and promoting practical solutions to increase water use efficiency, preventing runoff, and reducing application of nutrients and pesticides as well as better management of soils. In two recent case studies the run-off of herbicides and fertiliser was halved with a Cairns Farmer making his own bio-fertiliser based on cow manure, and a Mackay farmer inter-planting sugar cane and legumes (mung beans).

In the Wet Tropics, bananas only contributed a small portion to the total suspended sediment (TSS) export load compared with sugarcane (29% or 224kt/yr). However, on the basis of a unit area of TSS to export load, bananas (1.8t/ha/yr) were higher than sugarcane (1.2t/ha//yr). Hateley, L.R., Ellis, R., Shaw, M., Waters, D., Carroll, C. (2014) Modelling reductions of pollutant loads due to improved management practices in the Great Barrier Reef catchments – Wet Tropics NRM region, Technical Report, Volume 3, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM), Cairns, Queensland (ISBN: 978-0-7345-0441-8). Officers at DRNM have demonstrated how sediment and nutrient loss can be reduced with grassed inter row areas. A banana farmer has minimised run-off from his farm on the banks of Liverpool Creek between Innisfail and Tully with two major settling ponds which trap the water from his farm for 3 to 4 weeks before it goes into the river system. While these results are commendable , it is imperative such practices are adopted by the majority of farmers if the water quality reduction targets are to be met by 2020 for pesticides toxic loads (60%), dissolved inorganic nitrogen (50%),particulate phosphorus(20%),particulate nitrogen (20%), sediment (20%).

Climate change threat to microflora: Temperatures in Australia are projected to continue to increase, with more hot days and fewer cool days. Average rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decrease, with a likely increase in drought frequency and severity. In northern Australia rainfall could range from a 20% decrease to 10% increase by 2070 for low emissions; and a 30% decrease to 5% increase by 2070 for high emissions. Ocean-acidity levels will continue to increase as the ocean absorbs anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions. While reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions would increase the chance of constraining future global warming, some warming and associated changes are considered unavoidable. Microbes, crucial for fertile soils and plant growth, are vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation. Soil bacterial and fungal diversity and abundance have been shown to reduce as drylands get drier. This is largely because as soils dry out, plant cover and soil organic carbon content both decline, which in turn affects the bacteria and fungi living in the soil. A high level of microbial diversity is linked to higher plant productivity and soil fertility in drylands. Drylands across the world could suffer. If, as estimated there is severe degradation of 10-20% of global drylands this could affect up to 250 million people, mostly in the developing world. That would have a detrimental impact on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Wastewater: Phosphorus, nitrogen and energy (necessary ingredients for life) cannot be continuously extracted from non-renewable sources. Since wastewater contains nutrients, carbon, energy and other inorganic and organic resources, there are opportunities to preserve original natural resources, minimize waste generation and maximize value creation from waste products. Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) reported several resource recovery options for Australia in the next 20 years, including further commercialisation of dried biosolids production for fertiliser; renewable energy generation, including from co-digestion of sewage and other wastes; and, the application of new energy-efficient technologies and processes to wastewater treatment, including the production of inorganic fertiliser products. WASTEWATER – AN UNTAPPED RESOURCE? Report of a study by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) October 2015

Update on Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin: A Land Court objection to the granting of a mining lease and environmental authority for the Carmichael coal mine proposed by Adani Mining Pty Ltd was made by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO Qld), the legal representation for Land Services of Coast and Country Inc. The objection was based on groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts. NCWQ Environment Report, May 2015. On Tuesday 15 December 2015, the Land Court recommended approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine to the Queensland Government (QG), subject to extra conditions to protect the black-throated finch. Despite the Land Court President drawing attention to the exceptional ecological significance of the Doongmabulla Springs and the lack of direct investigation or modelling, Adani secured an environmental permit from the QG to build Australia’s largest coal mine. On behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), EDO Qld is seeking an independent judicial review by the Federal Court of the legality of Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the project. This is based on whether the minister correctly applied the law when considering the impacts of the project on the GBR and the endangered black-throated finch. The case is progressing with a hearing expected 3-4 May 2016. The black-throated finch has since been declared extinct in NSW so the Adani mine site is now its largest remaining habit. Adani still has to obtain significant bank funding to realise its $16.5bn mine, rail and port project, a mining lease from the QG, and reach compensation agreements with a number of remaining stakeholders, including local governments over the project’s use of their roads. Also it must finalise Indigenous land use agreements with traditional owners of the sites for associated works including an airstrip and workers’ accommodation.

Biodiversity offsets: While biodiversity offsetting aimed at “no net loss” of diversity is an increasingly popular policy approach, there is concern at the use of an “averted loss” where gains from the offset and the losses from the impact are only required to add up to the decline that would otherwise have occurred. Thus averted loss offsets only achieve a continuing decline of biodiversity. Environmental Impact Statements of mining ventures can include policies aimed to balance biodiversity loss arising from habitat destruction at one location by enhancing and/or protecting similar but separate habitat at another location. However, achieving the intending benefits is fraught with difficulties. For example, if only the vertical structure of a forest impacted by a mine site is considered, the estimate would be quite different from that if plant or bird species diversity was considered also. While companies aiming to have a net positive biodiversity impact are to be commended the methods for offsetting are still evolving and these companies will need to keep up to date and develop better ways of quantifying losses and gains.

Environment Adviser Report July 2015

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Fuerteventura 10

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): The decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that the GBR retain its world heritage listing and not be placed on the world heritage list of properties in danger was most welcome. The Committee commended Australia’s commitments toward restoring water quality; limiting capital dredging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities to within the regulated port limits of the four major ports of Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbott Point and Townsville; and banning the disposal of capital dredge material in the entire World Heritage Area. The Committee noted a number of commitments in The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan still required translation into legislation and the importance of sustained, adequate finance. whc15-39com-7Badd-en.pdf Investment of over $2 billion dollars is projected to be invested in managing and protecting the reef over the coming decade with over $485 million in 2014/15 from all tiers of government and the private and philanthropic sectors. Unfortunately, the expansion of existing ports with increased shipping traffic still provides a threat to the reef and marine life:- collisions with the reef with potential for more oil spills (e.g. the Sheng Neng 1 grounding), collisions with turtles, dugongs and dolphins in harbour. In addition exotic marine organisms released in ballast water can cause damage to both fisheries and marine ecology. Cope et al estimated that from1999 to2012 the amount of ballast water dumped in Australian waters doubled from 150 to 300 million cubic metres. The authors recommend targeted monitoring and management strategies focus particular attention on high traffic ports in the Manning-Hawksbury, Central & Southern Great Barrier Reef and Exmouth to Broome regions. Cope RC, Prowse TAA, Ross JV,Wittmann TA, Cassey P. 2015 Temporal modelling of ballast water discharge and ship-mediated invasion risk to Australia.R. Soc. open sci. 2: 150039


Recovery of reefs after category five cyclone Yasi: In the weeks after Yasi crossed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) in February, 2011, the extent and severity of reef damage was assessed via 841 Reef Health and Impact Surveys at 70 reefs. Just over 15% (3,834 km2) of the total reef area of the GBRMP was estimated to have sustained some level of coral damage, with ~4% (949 km2) sustaining a degree of structural damage. Resurveying a subset of the reefs in 2013, showed severely impacted reefs had started to recover; coral cover increased an average of 4% (range -6% to +9%). Beeden R, Maynard J, Puotinen M,Marshall P, Dryden J, Goldberg J, et al. (2015) Impacts and Recovery from Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi on the Great Barrier Reef. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0121272. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121272


Measures to save marine life: A pilot project on Raine Island, a vital breeding ground for the green turtle, at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef reprofiled the sand in a trial area to increase hatchling success from 36% over the previous three years to 56% and reduce the number of clutches destroyed by water inundation from 43% to 28%.Fencing erected along the island’s internal cliff edge reduced adult turtle mortality from turtles falling and becoming trapped on their backs by over 50%. This project was developed jointly by researchers from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection(DEHP) and marine park rangers from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. BHP Billiton are now supporting the project with $5.4 million over five years. A recent survey by DEHP found 40% of small turtles passing through Moreton Bay consumed plastics. 70% of the endangered loggerhead turtles also ingested plastic debris. Blockages in their digestive system can cause a slow and painful death through starvation The State Government is considering banning single-use plastic bags in Queensland to reduce the amount of pollution entering waterways and taking a toll on marine life. Other possible measures which could be considered are a cash for containers scheme to foster recycling; charging a small fee for plastic bags, and a deposit on bags.


Recycling waste: Professor Veena Sahajwalla, (Director, Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology, UNSW), and her team have demonstrated that waste plastics and waste rubber can replace coal and coke in steel-making. This environmentally friendly and cost effective process for recycling plastics and rubber tyres in electric arc furnace steelmaking has been adopted in steel making plants in Sydney and Melbourne saving over 1.8 million tyres from landfill Another research project of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology is recycling end-of-life industrial components into carbon resources for ferrous alloys. Carbon from CDs or carbon frame bike parts deemed unrecyclable are combined with the parent metal, iron, to form an iron-carbon alloy which has superior strength and hardness to iron. Industrial tools like drills, diggers and cast iron pipes can be made from the alloy.

Environmental Updates May 2015

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environmental Adviser


Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): The recently released Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan which was developed involving government, key industry organisations, traditional owners, environment groups, researchers and the community fulfils the World Heritage Committee’s recommendation that Australia develop a long-term plan for sustainable development to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef. Ambitious targets and actions across seven key areas are outlined —biodiversity, ecosystem health, water quality, heritage, community benefits, economic benefits and governance. Based on a 2009 baseline, these include

  • Improving water quality by reducing dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads in priority areas by at least 50% by 2018, on the way to achieving an 80% reduction in nitrogen by 2025,
  • Reducing pesticide loads by at least 60% in priority areas by 2018,
  • A net improvement in the condition of natural wetlands and riparian vegetation by 2020,
  • Populations of Australian dolphins, dugongs and turtle either stable or increasing by 2020 and
  • Further protect the Fitzroy Delta including North Curtis Island and Keppel Bay.

Considerable progress has been made e.g. a 16% reduction since 2009 in dissolved inorganic nitrogen, the key pollutant linked to crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. A new single injection control method has significantly increased the efficiency of control programs for crown-of-thorns starfish when previously 10 to 25 injections were needed. The Australian Government (AG) has banned capital dredge disposal in 345,000 square kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), the 99% of the GBR under the AG control. Maintenance dredging carried out on previously dredged channels for safety e.g. to avoid the possibility of a ship strike is not covered by the ban. The Queensland Government (QG) which controls the remaining 1% (3000 square kilometres covering the ports area) has given a commitment to restrict capital dredging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities to within the regulated port limits of Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbot Point and Townsville, and prohibit the sea-based disposal of dredge material from these sites in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. In relation to maintenance dredging, the QG will examine “opportunities for beneficial reuse of dredge material or on-land disposal where it is environmentally safe to do so. Projected investment in the coming decade for research and management activities on the Reef and in the adjoining catchments along the coast is expected to be over $A2 billion. Highlights of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, Commonwealth of Australia 2015.pdf . The decision to exclude maintenance dredge spoil has been criticised as it could still be disposed of within the marine park and compromise the effectiveness of the ban. Mon at 11:37amMon 4 May 2015

The QG has established an Office of the Great Barrier Reef within the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to implement the QG’s reef management strategies and programs and a new high-level Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce to advise the QG on how to achieve its ambitious reef water quality improvement targets

Using data from underwater surveys carried out from 1983-2012, on reefs spread across approximately 150,000 km2 (> 40% of the GBRMP) scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have demonstrated the density, mean length, and biomass of principal fishery species, coral trout, to be consistently greater in no-take marine reserves (NTMRs) than on fished reefs over both the short and medium term (5 to 30 years). For reefs affected by Hamish, the severe tropical cyclone which struck in 2009, coral trout biomass has declined only on the fished reefs. There were no clear or consistent differences in the structure of fish or benthic assemblages, non-target fish density, fish species richness, or coral cover between NTMR and fished reefs. There was no indication that the displacement and concentration of fishing effort reduced coral trout populations on fished reefs. Emslie et al., Expectations and Outcomes of Reserve Network Performance following Re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Current Biology (2015),

Update on threats to groundwater resources of the Galilee Basin: Presently before the Courts is the objection to the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO Qld) on behalf of their client, Land Services of Coast and Country. Not only will the Carmichael coal mine impact on the groundwater resources that are the life blood of surrounding farmers but also the threatened ecological community at Doongmabulla Springs and threatened species including one of only two nationally important populations of the endangered Black-throated Finch.

UUpdate on coal seam gas (CSG): Fugitive emissions and impacts on water from coal seam gas mining are still very much a concern. Sedimentary basins which underlie half of Australia provide 90% of Australia’s primary energy through fossil fuels, sustain most of our agriculture and rural populations with water, and support a large fraction of Australia’s endangered riverine and rangeland ecosystems. Increasingly, sedimentary basins are being explored for new resources and services, such as CSG and shale gas, CO2 storage and geothermal energy. At the same time dependence on groundwater is increasing. The University of Melbourne’s Sedimentary Basin Management Initiative aims to establish baseline data and contextual information for model-data analysis, impact and risk assessment and provide independent advice. As repeatedly noted in previous NCWQ Environment reports research on how these sedimentary basins work and how extractive processes such as CSG affect water resources is urgently needed

Update on renewable energy development in Queensland: The QG has approved a wind farm at Mt Emerald on the Atherton Tablelands. The farm has a capacity to generate 225 megawatts (MW) of electricity, or 500,000MW hours of renewable energy each year, with the potential to power around 75,000 homes for over 20 years. Strict conditions, including daytime and night time noise limits, and being located at least 1.5km from any existing dwelling apply.

 NCWQ Environment Adviser May2015

The Great Barrier Reef Matters

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environmental Adviser



Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Since my July report, Outlook Report 2014 and strategic assessments for the Great Barrier Reef Region and adjacent coastal zone have been released. Pollutant loads entering the Reef have reduced measurably since the last Outlook report in 2009 due to programmes such as the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013.Traditional owner control of dugong and turtle hunting for traditional purposes has improved through the Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements. However, climatechange remains the most serious threat to the GBR with rising sea temperatures likely to increase the risk of mass coral bleaching and gradual ocean acidification to restrict coral growth and survival. These impacts depend on the extent of the exposure to suspended sediments, excess nutrients and pesticides. While improving land management practices are reducing amounts entering the Region, there will be significant time lags before improvements are evident in the Region’s water quality. Until then, chronic impacts, for example on the recovery of seagrass meadows and coral reefs, and outbreaks of the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish are likely to continue. A series of major storms and floods during the five-year reporting period between Outlook Reports have had an adverse impact on the GBR’s ecosystem. Along the Queensland coast, the northern areas, above Port Douglas, remain in good condition while areas further south have been affected by human use and natural disasters. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2014, Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2014: in brief, GBRMPA, Townsville. In addition to concerted international effort to reduce global climate change, the strategic assessment found action was needed at national, state and local levels to build the Reef’s resilience by reducing impacts across all sources. The Reef’s biodiversity and health need to be maintained and in the southern two-thirds of the Region restored by halting and reversing impacts. SA_InBrief_final5.pdf

On the 12th August 2014, the Minister for the Environment, The Hon. Greg Hunt outlined the following initiatives to be adopted by the Commonwealth and Queensland Government from the strategic assessments:

  • A cumulative impact assessment policy and guidelines for a transparent, consistent and systematic approach to identifying, measuring and managing collective impacts on the region and its values
  • A net benefit policy to guide actions aimed at restoring ecosystem health and improve the condition of values.
  • A new approach to decision making based on clear targets for maintaining the reef’s Outstanding Universal Value.
  • No port development outside the key long-established ports of Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point-Mackay and Gladstone.
  • A Reef recovery programme to support local communities and other stakeholders to protect and restore sites of high environmental value and critical ecosystem functions through cooperative regional-scale management approaches.
  • Reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting that underpins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s adaptive management and provides good feedback on the effectiveness of management actions.

SA_InBrief_final5.pdf ;;

The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan has targeted identified areas of action from the comprehensive strategic assessment and seeks to address gaps for future management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The Queensland Government has lodged two referrals to the Commonwealth Minister for Environment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 relating to the Abbot Point Port and Wetlands Strategy. Dredge material is likely to be deposited on existing state land to the west of current port facilities, to lay the groundwork for future expansion. Existing man-made wetlands to the south will be enhanced by the creation of a habitat three times the size of the current wetlands.

In 2012-13, 10,700 large commercial ship movements were reported to have occurred in the region in addition to the operation of 83,000 privately registered recreational vessels and 485 commercial trawlers. Additional measures to the current stringent navigation and pollution prevention controls are proposed in the new North East Shipping Management Planto manage future increases in shipping traffic, ensure the safety of shipping and the prevent ship sourced pollution and other environmental impacts in the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and Coral Sea regions. Theseinclude:

• further areas for consideration of pilotage requirements as traffic levels warrant

• increased resources for port State control inspections and further focus on areas related to navigational risk (such as fatigue, passage planning and navigational equipment)

• additional protections for the Coral Sea afforded by international instruments such as ship reporting and routeing requirements

• using emerging ship tracking technology to provide early alerting of ship breakdowns including a ‘traffic organisation service’ to minimise collision risk

• working with industry to introduce ahead of international timelines the need for ships trading to ports in the region to be equipped with Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) and bunker oil tanks fitted in protective locations.


Discovering New Species: Bush Blitz, a species discovery partnership program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Ecosystems and Earthwatch Australia,

documents the plants and animals in hundreds of properties across Australia’s National Reserve System. Since the program’s inception in 2010, Bush Blitz has discovered about 600 new and undescribed species and gathered baseline scientific data on these and other known species. On a recent expedition to Carnarvon Station Reserve, a Bush Heritage property in central Queensland, scientists from the Queensland Museum, Australian National Herbarium,

University of NSW, Qld Department of Primary Industries, South Australia Museum, and Bush Heritage looked for spiders, ants, bees, flies, plants, reptiles and amphibians. Innumerable species were located including a skink with a bright red throat and Acrocerid flies. The latter have a weird and horrific life history as the larvae live in the body cavity of a spider, feeding on the internal organs of the still-living arachnid possibly for several years before punching out through the spider’s skin and flying off in search of a mate.


Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): Previously the NCWA Environment and Habitat Adviser, Wendy Rainbird has raised issues about this expected agreement between Australia and USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam. Free trade agreements can free up access to markets for goods and services, and generate investment through removal of perceived barriers to trade such as industry subsidies, tariffs and import quotas. However, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause is of particular concern as it would allow foreign investors of TPP countries to directly sue the host government in an international tribunal if they perceived regulations and laws to be harmful to their investment, even if those laws and regulations were made to protect the public interest. NCWA TPP trade deals.docx.The Productivity Commission, in a 2010 report on bilateral and regional trade agreements(BRTAs), recommended that the Australian government avoid the inclusion of ISDS provisions in BRTAs that grant foreign investors in Australia substantive or procedural rights greater than those enjoyed by Australian investors;

Professor Jane Kelsey, an expert on globalisation and economic regulation from the University of Auckland in New Zealand advises that if Australia signs an agreement with these mechanisms in place it will make it harder for the government to put new regulations in place and that the agreement poses a very real risk to the environment.

In the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) overview on the TTP, it is stated Australia is seeking commitments in areas where trade disciplines can help to address environmental challenges including through liberalising trade in environmental goods and services and disciplines on fisheries subsidies that contribute to over-fishing. Professor Kelsey advises that the leaked Environment chapter in the TPP showed the obligations to be weak and compliance with them unenforceable in contrast to other chapters that subordinate the environment, natural resources and indigenous rights to commercial objectives and business interests.

Germany was sued €1.4 billion by energy giant Vattenfall for trying to put in place new water quality standards for a coal-fired power plant. The government avoided the fine by agreeing to weaken its environmental standards Hamburg Environmental Authority had issued a licence imposing water quality standards, which, according to Vattenfall, made the whole investment project “unviable”. The corporation argued that the environmental permit violated the provisions set out in Part 3 of the Energy Charter Treaty, an international trade and investment agreement in the energy sector, regarding the promotion and protection of investments. This treaty, like many international investment agreements, grants foreign investors the right to bypass the domestic courts of the host country and to directly file a complaint to an ad hoc international tribunal to challenge proposed government regulations.

Now that Germany has decided to phase out nuclear energy, Vattenfall has filed a request for arbitration against Germany at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), housed at the World Bank in Washington. Relying on its rights under the Energy Charter Treaty, Vattenfall is claiming over €3,7 billion in compensation in response to the closure of the nuclear power plants Krümmel and Brunsbüttel.

Wendy Rainbird cited the case of the US company Ethyl that claimed US $251 million in costs for expropriation and discriminatory treatment and inference with its corporate image and reputation. The Canadian government had tried to ban a gasoline additive that was harmful to environment and health but withdrew the ban and paid $13 million. The NSW Government’s regulation that no CSG fracking should occur within two kilometres of urban areas, would be able to be changed by a foreign corporation’s ability to sue the NSW government NCWA TPP trade deals.docx.Ethyl had alleged that a Canadian statute banning imports of the gasoline additive MMT for use in unleaded gasoline breached Canada’s obligations under Chapter Eleven (on investment) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In response to a similar challenge launched by three Canadian provinces, a Canadian federal-provincial dispute settlement panel, established under the Agreement on Internal Trade, subsequently found against the federal measure. Accordingly, Canada and Ethyl settled all outstanding matters, including the Chapter Eleven claim

When the Mexican municipality of Guadalcazar refused to issue a permit to build a waste dump because of the impact on the 800 surrounding residents $16.6 million in compensation was awarded to the dump’s US owners. The company contended that Mexico, through the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi and Municipality of Guadalcazar, interfered with and precluded its operation of the landfill, and alleges that this interference was is a violation of the investment provisions of NAFTA and filed its claim with ICSID. A federal permit to construct a hazardous waste landfill had been granted and a state land use permit issued subject to the condition that the project adapt to the specifications and technical requirements indicated by the corresponding authorities, and accompanied by the General Statement that the license did not prejudge the rights or ownership of the applicant and did not authorize works, constructions or the functioning of business or activities. The municipality agreement or support for construction of the landfill was not obtained.

Using an ISDS clause, an ICSID tribunal recently forced Ecuador to pay US$1.76 billion (plus interest) to US petroleum company Occidental (Oxy) for a loss of profits after Ecuador cancelled its contract. and Alberta Energy Corporation Ltd (AEC) entered into a Farmout Agreement where AEC acquired a 40% economic interest in Block 15 in return for certain capital contributions. Ecuador terminated the contract as the transfer violated both the Participation Contract and Ecuadorian law, which required ministerial approval. The tribunal held that the termination of the Participation Contract was a disproportionate response to Oxy’s assignment of rights under the Farmout Agreement.The tribunal also held that Ecuador’s measures were “tantamount to expropriation”. International disputes and arbitration lawyers Tai-Heng Cheng and Lucas Bento comment that it is unsurprising that tribunals routinely allocate responsibility between governments and foreign corporations for failed investment projects but observers should now realize that with this authority comes the power to impose damages of over a billion dollars to rectify wrongful acts.

In the DFAT overview on the TTP, it is stated that Australia is considering the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in free trade agreements on a case-by-case basis. Kennedys, Director of Humane Society International, states thatUS has no intention of signing a TPP that does not contain enforceable dispute settlement measures and that Australia will back the US on ISDS proposals. He believes that the immense biological diversity of the Pacific region will be at high risk if the 12 nations sign up to a trade agreement that ignores the environment. Australia has ISDS provisions in place with 28 economies, this would be the first with the US, whose companies are historically the most eager to sue. Given ultimately tax payers would pay any fines imposed by the ICSID, it would seem prudent for the Australian Government to heed the advice of the Productivity Commission. Also the TPP is an opportunity for Australia to show leadership on the environmental regulation and enforcement front.

 Also of concern is that access will be only granted once the agreement is signed by Cabinet and that Parliament does not have the opportunity to debate and vote on the full text but only on the implementing legislation.NCWA TPP trade deals.docx.


Environmental Report

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

The Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014: The Queensland Government (QG)aims to slash red tape for the resources sector and to improve land access protection for the landholder by developing a single, common resources Act for the mining, petroleum and gas, greenhouse gas storage and geothermal energy sectors. The Mineral and Energy Resources Bill introduced to Parliament on 5 June 2014 begins this process and also aims to implement the Land Access Implementation Committee’s recommendations that require legislative changes. These include expanding the Land Court’s jurisdiction to hear conduct matters when considering conduct and compensation agreements; requiring that conduct and compensation agreements be noted on the relevant property title; and allowing two willing parties to opt out of entering a formal conduct and compensation agreement.; MinEnergyResCPB14E.pdf; However the Environmental Defenders Office, EDO Qld, has raised serious concerns. Public notification and the community right to object to the Queensland Land Court for in effect 90% of proposed mines (coal, bauxite, gold, uranium, etc) will be removed. Only the Local Council and landholders within the proposed mining lease area can object to the granting of a mining lease. This does not include neighbours. Only ‘high risk’ mines will be publicly notified for objection on environmental grounds (predicted to be only 10% of mines in Queensland). does not bode well, given the Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Developments found 14 of 17 environmental assessments reviewed were deficient because they did not take proper account of the cumulative impacts the project would have on water, and 12 were also deficient in analysing how interference with ground and surface water would affect swamps, wetlands, ecological communities and threatened species. 26 April 2013

Other worrying aspects of the Mineral and Energy Resources Bill are the changes of definition of restricted land and the alterations to landholder’s rights. Restricted land no longer applies to principal stockyards, bores, artesian wells, dams and other artificial water storages connected to a water supply.(P34MinEnergyResCPB14E.pdf;)It is doubtful if the conduct and compensation agreement framework will provide the landholder with adequate protection.

Consent provisions currently in place for restricted land will be totally removed where the mine is open cut.

Impacts of coal seam gas extraction on groundwater resources: As Dr Catherine Moore, Senior Research Scientist CSIRO Land and Water, notes questions remain about how the removal of groundwater during coal seam gas extraction will affect regional groundwater, quality and quantity over short and long time scales; and what effect may re-injection of treated coal seam gas water have on existing groundwater quality? Scientists at Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance, GISERA, are conducting baseline groundwater quality measurements; water transport modelling (reservoir to regional scale) to predict cumulative impacts of re‑injection on groundwater and modelling short and long term changes to groundwater quality in Surat and Bowen Basins. snapshot-gisera-research.pdf

As Dr Matthew Currell, Lecturer in Hydrogeology, School of Environmental Engineering at RMIT University, advises a long period of data collection and hydrogeological investigation is needed to make confident predictions with groundwater models. The models are characterised by uncertainty. For example, how much or how quickly one aquifer may register changes in water pressures in response to de-watering somewhere else can’t be determined exactly. Rather, a range of possible outcomes, with a certain level of confidence could realistically be provided. Similarly, how quickly pollution will move through an aquifer, and whether or when it might ultimately reach a wetland or stream is difficult to predict exactly. Many proposed mines will affect groundwater; in many cases from aquifers already used by people and important ecosystems. 9 October 2013 The importance of having the water trigger legislation and assessments by the IESC is shown by their track record 26 April 2013 Given that water resources are such an essential resource to the economy and the environment would it not be prudent to slow the pace of CSG development until the science is done and to keep safeguards in place?

A recent GISERA study exploded farmers’ perceptions of issues arising from large scale land use change due to the expansion of the CSG industry. Impacts on ground and surface waters are a primary concern. Issues regarding atmospheric pollution (dust, light, noise) and increased traffic have a significant impact on many aspects of farmers’ lives.Culture differences between farmers and CSG staff have led to severe impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Huth N.I., Cocks B., Dalgliesh N., Poulton, P., Marinoni O., Navarro J. (2014) Farmers’ perceptions of coexistence between agriculture and a large scale coal seam gas development: working paper, June 2014, CSIRO, Australia.

Effect of Coal Projects on Water Resources in the Galilee Basin: Landholders anxious about future water supplybrought one of nine mega mines proposed for the Galilee Basin before the Land Court. NCWQ Environmental Adviser Report Oct13. The Land Court has recommended that the mine proposal either be rejected by the State government, or else only be allowed to proceed with extra conditions to protect groundwater. It was found that there were assumptions in the groundwater models that were not based on conclusive field evidence, in particular the location and rates of groundwater recharge, the geological structure and its control on groundwater flow, and the scale of off-site impacts of the mine on neighbouring areas. 10 April 2014

Since the many of the proposed mines are in close proximity, their cumulative effect is of major concern.


Underground coal gasification (UCG): An independent scientific panel investigating two UCG pilot trials recommended:-

  • the two companies be permitted to continue their current pilot trials with the sole, focused aim of examining in a comprehensive manner the assertion that the self-cleaning cavity approach advocated for decommissioning is environmentally safe;
  • a planning and action process be established to demonstrate successful ‘decommissioning’ of the underground cavities used as part of the UCG process;
  • until decommissioning can be demonstrated, no commercial UCG facility be commenced. Environmental Adviser Report Jul13

One company has been fined for causing groundwater contamination other has had charges filed against them for serious environmental harm. Both trials are now entering a decommissioning phase.

Great Barrier Reef (GBR): At the 38th Session of UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Doha, Qatar from 15 – 25 June 2014, the WHCwelcomed the progress being made with the Strategic Assessment and reiterated its request for this work to be completed in order to ensure that the Long-Term Plan for Sustainable Development (LTPSD) results in concrete and consistent management measures that are sufficiently robust, effectively governed and adequately financed, to ensure the overall long-term conservation of the GBR and its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), including in view of addressing cumulative impacts and increasing reef resilience.

Progress made with regard to water quality was welcomed, in particular the endorsement of the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement and the progress toward the Reef Plan targets as stated in the most recent Reef Plan Report Card. These efforts and their funding were encouraged to be sustained and where necessary expanded to achieve the ultimate goal of no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef.

The focussing of port development to the Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs), the confirmation that these will exclude the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay, and north Curtis Island, and the commitment to “protect greenfield areas from the impacts of port development” was welcomed. The WHC urged that the finalized Queensland Ports Strategy ensures that the above mentioned commitments are fully integrated and are consistent with the LTPSD, and that no port developments or associated port infrastructure be permitted outside the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the GBR.

The full completion of the independent review of the institutional and management arrangements for the GBR, as recommended by the 2012 reactive monitoring mission, as a key input to the LTPSD, was requested. The transfer of decision-making power from Federal to State levels, before the vision, framework with desired outcomes and targets, and governance requirements to deliver the LTPSD have been adopted, was considered to be premature, and should be postponed to allow further consideration.

The WHC expressed concern at recent approvals for coastal developments in the absence of a completed Strategic Assessment and resulting LTPSD, and regretted that the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge material inside the GBR had been approved prior to a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options being undertaken. The WHC requested the Government ensure that the option selected does not impact OUV, and is the least damaging option available.

The WHC also noted with concern that the provisions of the Queensland Ports Strategy cannot be applied retroactively, and therefore strongly urged the Government:

a) ensure rigorously that proposed development outside PPDAs is not permitted and that developments within PPDAs do not impact individually or cumulatively the OUV of the GBR;

b) ensure that plans to be developed for each PPDA exclude from development areas identified as of conservation significance under the 2003 Great Barrier Reef Zoning plan.

The WHC requested the submission of an updated report on the state of conservation of the GBR to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015. This should include the implementation of actions outlined above as well as on the other points raised in the 2012 reactive monitoring mission report, and the documents relevant to the WHC’s past decisions. These with the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment and resulting LTPSD, as well as the findings of the second Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report would be examined by the WHC at its 39th session in 2015, with a view to considering, in the case of confirmation of the ascertained or potential danger to its OUV, the possible inscription of the GBR on the List of World Heritage in Danger. the progress made is acknowledged, the premature approvals and transfer of decision making power from Federal to State are very concerning as are the other concerns raised by the WHC.




Environment Adviser Report May 2014



By Pat Pepper

Conditions on the Great Barrier Reef: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) Eye on the Reef program with its component monitoring and reef health and impact surveys programs aims to provide valuable and up to date information on reef health status and trends, the distribution of protected and iconic species, and early warnings of environmental impacts. Marine Park rangers, marine tourism staff, scientists, fishers, tourists and other reef users all contribute by reporting their Reef sightings and observations to the GBRMPA. Since 2007, more than 9000 sightings of interesting marine animals, including humpback whales, dwarf  minke whales, dugongs, dolphins, whale sharks, tiger sharks and green sea turtles have been recorded. Sightings of coral bleaching and damage, oil spills and chemical pollution, or strandings of marine animals can help provide early warning of health impacts.  Since 2009, the Reef Health and Impact Survey has assessed reef health on hundreds of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park within a series of five-metre radius circles. Participants complete a free basic training program in order to maintain the accuracy and quality of data gathered so that the GBRMPA can effectively minimize impacts and promote recovery.  Of the 894 surveys across 88 reefs undertaken since 1 December 2013 (83%  in the Cairns-Cooktown region, and the majority of the remainder in the Mackay-Capricorn region), 44 per cent recorded healthy coral reefs with no impacts, 30 per cent had one type of impact and another 26 per cent recorded more than one impact. Predation (mainly by crown-of-thorns starfish) was seen in 40 per cent of the surveys.  Researchers at James Cook University have developed a new method to control crown-of-thorns starfish with a small single injection that produces an allergic reaction in the starfish, causing it to break apart and die within 24 hours. 250,000 have now been culled on the Great Barrier Reef with this new control measure.

As the Chairman of the GBRMPA, Russell Reichelt, has pointed out assessing development applications on a case-by-case basis creates unnecessary uncertainty for local communities as well as the ports sector and heightens environmental risks. The danger of potential cumulative environmental impacts on the reef over a wide geographic area are not being properly assessed when development applications are considered in isolation.

On 13 April 2014 Environment Department inspectors raised concerns that the dams  at Yabulu Nickel Refinery, which hold massive volumes of hazardous byproducts of the processing of nickel and cobalt were at capacity and may overflow after the heavy rains associated with Cyclone Ita. State Environment Minister, Andrew Powell, said any formal application to channel the tailings through an outfall pipe into a ­lagoon and the ocean waters of the World Heritage Area would be opposed.

Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 was passed on 20 March 2014 by the Queensland Parliament. It aims to guarantee protection of prime farm land and communities from encroaching resource development, especially coal seam gas and coal, and to resolve potential conflicts which may arise from the interaction between competing land uses, including agriculture and resources. In areas of regional interest (i.e. a priority agricultural area; a priority living area; the strategic cropping area; or a strategic environmental area) resource activities and other regulated activities will require a regional interests development approval. However, exemptions include certain activities agreed with the land owner, activity carried out for less than one year, and pre-existing resource activities. While farmer organisations welcome the Act as it helps  redress the current power imbalance in land access arrangements and gives some landholders an equal say in what actually will occur on their land, the Environmental Defenders Office, EDO Qld, is concerned that since if a landholder agrees to the resource activity, the mining company will simply notify the Government and undertake the activity without  any scrutiny. There will be no public notification of the regional interest activity (RIA) application; no opportunity to make public submissions on the RIA; no third party public interest appeal rights; and no assessment of how significant the impacts are on the regional interest area.

Oil recycling plant: The opening of Australia’s largest oil recycling plant in Gladstone could produce significant environmental benefits by processing up to 100 per cent of Queensland’s waste lube oil. This is 30 per cent of Australia’s annual production. Every component is reused with 99 per cent of the lube oil component in the waste oil recovered as high quality lube oil for re-use. Rather than burning and wasting used lube oil it is hoped large producers like mines and local government will support this facility.   

Alternative investment option for regulated point source operators to manage their water emission.  Queensland Urban Utilities is undertaking a pilot project using alternative nutrient reduction actions in the Logan River to manage additional nitrogen discharges from the Beaudesert Sewage Treatment Plant, which have resulted from local population growth.   500 metres of eroded riparian corridors on the Logan River are being repaired with structural bank stabilization and riparian planting.  It is estimated this will prevent approximately five tonnes of nitrogen and 11,200 tonnes of sediment from entering the Logan River each year due to natural erosion. The nitrogen savings made through the riparian works will be used to counterbalance any potential increases in nitrogen discharge from the sewage treatment plant that may occur during wet weather events.

Threatened Species:  At Raine Island this year the reproductive success of green  turtle nesting populations is less than 1%. In other green turtle nesting populations it is around 85%. The Raine Island recovery project plan will be reviewed against this findings.

The endangered  northern subspecies of little tern Sternula albifrons sinensis which nests on open ground  on South Stradbroke Island, one of the few known breeding sites in South East Queensland is under threat  from adverse physical processes and extreme weather events. Continued monitoring and management activities are being undertaken. www.ehp.qld/  Back from the Brink Issue #6

 NCWQ Environment Adviser May 2014

Environment Adviser’s Report Feb 2014


By Pat Pepper

Great Barrier Reef Ports: On 5th December 2013  the NCWQ made a submission to the Queensland Government about the Queensland Ports Strategy raising the following concerns:-

  • Expansion of ports designated as Priority Port Development Areas within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) to cater for the expected increased quantities of coal and liquefied natural gas to be exported;
  • Impact of dredging and the dumping of dredge spoil given the report by Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Ltd of the possible wider than expected dispersion of dredge plumes;
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GMRMP) and potential  introduction of many threats to the reef and marine life.


The concerns raised by NCWQ in Queensland Ports Strategy submission and specifically that of the impact of dredging and the dispersal of dredged spoil from the expansion of the Port at Abbot Point were also raised with the Australian Government (AG) via the NCWA. On the 10th December 2013, the AG Environment Minister, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, gave approval for the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation Ltd (NQBPC) to undertake  capital dredging and dredge spoil disposal for three terminals at the Port of Abbot Point, admittedly with several commendable conditions to mitigate or offset any impacts (2011-6213-approval-decision.pdf).  However, it is noted that the proposed relocation area for the dredge spoil is within the GBRMP  although the Minister’s priority for all future capital dredging projects within the Central and North Queensland coastal zone will be for shoreline, near to shore or land reclamation disposal (mr20131210.pdf).  

On 31st January 2014, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the application by NQBPC to dispose of dredge spoil at a deepwater location offshore of Abbot Point, subject to strict environmental conditions. The GBRMPA said they would support the use of an alternative site within the identified investigation zone if the NQBPC found one to be equal to or better in terms of environmental or heritage outcomes. However, the investigation zone is still within the GBRMP. Testing has confirmed there are no identified contaminants in the sediments that will be dredged at Abbot Point The GBRMPA has reported that the uncertainty about the additional effects of sea dumping of dredge spoil is a key concern, particularly given the potential for large volumes of proposed dredge material to be dumped and resuspended in areas of the Great Barrier Reef Region (GBRR) already in poor condition GBRMPA 820 Strategic Assessment in Brief- Low Res.pdf.

The North Queensland Conservation Council (NQCC) considered the Abbot Point cumulative impact assessment (CIA) only considered a limited number of impacts from a limited number of actions and failed to meet the standard established in 2010 by Franks, DM, Brereton, D, Moran, CJ, Sarker, T and T, Cohen,2010, in “Cumulative Impacts: A Good Practice Guide for the Australian Coal Mining Industry” NGCC- comment- on –the draft GBRWHA- strategic – Assessments-2013.pdf.  One questions whether given the dredge spoil is uncontaminated, could not better use be made of it on land? The possibility of smothering reefs and seagrass meadows remain. Given the threats from climate change and agricultural run off, why let the additional effect of sea dumping of dredge material put the reef’s world heritage status further at risk, and threaten marine life and the tourism and fishing industries?


Strategic Assessments of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone:  Draft assessments were released on 1 November 2013 as part of AG’s response to the World Heritage Committee’s concerns about the impact of development on the GBRWHA. It was reported that, while the outstanding universal value of the GBRWHA remained largely intact, the overall health of the Reef, especially in the southern two thirds of the GBRR, south of about Cooktown and Port Douglas, has declined significantly. Key habitats such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows are in serious decline and populations of some iconic and highly vulnerable animals e.g. southern dugong are on a downward trend. While agricultural practices are improving, and the loads of sediments and nutrients being washed into the GBRR are decreasing (Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013), there is likely to be a lag of some decades before water quality significantly improves. High concentrations of nutrients in Reef waters are likely to promote continued, more-frequent outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. With sea dumping of dredge spoil, the cumulative effect of these impacts require additional management intervention. With a concerted international effort to reduce global climate change, action at the national, state and local levels is needed to build the Reef’s resilience by reducing impacts GBRMPA 820 Strategic Assessment in Brief- Low Res. The GBRWPA advocated strengthening current management strategies as well as a number of initiatives GBRMPA Draft Program Report sml.pdf.


However, the North Queensland Conservation Council (NQCC)  has drawn attention to  the dangers of  “ Strategic assessments remove the need  for the assessments of individual projects, instead they mean a range of developments can proceed without further approval if undertaken under a policy, program or plan endorsed under the EPBC Act, (p2)” in the AG’s Strategic Assessment Prospectus. The NQCC stressed that as the Strategic Assessment focused on the management of the GBRWHA any acceptance of the proposed Program can only demonstrate Ministerial approval of individual management approaches within the proposed Program, not a range of development proposals. In reviewing the effectiveness of the GBRMPA, the NQCC concluded the GBRMPA needs to be strengthened to be able to exert greater control over the range of activities having an impact on the GBRWHA. The NQCC urges that the condition of all aspects of the GBRWHA be linked to causes of degradation and the associated proposed changes to deliver targeted quantified benefit. The NQCC questioned whether the claims in the QG’s Draft Program Report – Coastal component that management have been effective.  For example, the recent revelations of the failure of the wall designed to retain dredge spoil  at GladstoneHarbour and systemic failings in the monitoring, managing and reporting hardly confirm effectiveness.  

The NQCC highlights a number of other deficiencies e.g. the proposed offset policy appears to be designed for quicker development application/assessment rather than an empirical assessment of the ability or failure of existing offsets to deliver net benefits for the environment; the claim that the Abbot Point CIA to be an innovative model for this kind of assessment given it failed to meet the standard NGCC- comment- on –the draft GBRWHA- strategic – Assessments-2013.pdf.   The independent review of the Coastal Zone Strategic Assessment (draft in progress 13 September2013) by Sinclair, Knight and Merz commissioned by the Department of Environment of the AG found the reports to be consistent with the terms of reference if key gaps identified were addressed. They concluded further explanation was needed on how the Strengthened Management and Forward Commitments of the Program are sufficient to reverse the declining condition of Matters of National Environmental Significance. A number of recommendations were made e.g. expanding the assessment of port development and associated activities such as shipping and dredging to provide further justification for the assessments of risks and considering the cumulative impacts of multiple port projects across the GBR; and describing the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification are likely to be manifested on the GBR and how managing for resilience could partly address these challenges. Great Barrier Reef Coastal Zone Strategic Assessment Independent Review Report 25 October 2013

State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Australia) was released by the AG on the 31st January 2014,  in response to the World Heritage Committee Decision Whc 37 Com 7b.10. The above Strategic Assessments and Programme Reports form the basis for the claim of that substantial progress has been made in responding to the World Heritage Committee decisions and mission recommendations.  Work on Reef 2050 – Longterm Sustainability Plan has commenced. gbr-state-party-report-2014-hi.pdf

Environmental threat from the nickel refinery at Yabulu near Townsville:  A GBRMPA report obtained by FOI by the Australian newspaper stated that there was 5000 million litres of “hazardous waste” in the refinery’s tailings pond and the nitrogen concentrations were more than 150 times the maximum for sewage discharge in the GBRMP.  There are concerns about the risk of a spill in the event of a major downpour or cyclone or the possibility of unpermitted discharges.

Coal Seam Gas and ground water: The work undertaken by Geoscience Australia, the Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) and Gas Industry Social & Environmental Research Alliance (Gisera) is acknowledged and commended. Geoscience Australia is investigating potential recharge zones to the GAB aquifers of the Surat Basin from downward leakage through the Quaternary alluvial aquifers, usually via rivers and potential areas of upward leakage from the GAB to the Quaternary alluvium and river systems

Gisera has current research projects looking at maximising the amount of treated coal seam gas water that can be re–injected into aquifers:- Geochemical response to re-injection project to understand how treated coal seam gas water interacts with groundwater; Re–injection of coal seam gas water to understand how to minimise clogging of re–injection wells; Groundwater modelling to determine the possibility of large scale re–injection programs and Groundwater baseline study to understand the origin and age of groundwater prior to and during initial stages of development GISERA  Research progress December 2013.

A regional groundwater flow model was constructed to predict the impacts of current and planned CSG development on water pressures in aquifers for Surat Underground Water Impact Report (UWIR) which was approved in December 2012.  At that time there was little monitoring data to assist in understanding the interconnectivity between the formations Surat underground-water-impact-report.pdf July2012.  Condamine Connectivity Project is being undertaken to improve understanding of the hydrogeological relationships and potential for interconnectivity between the Condamine Alluvium (CA), the underlying Walloon Coal Measures (WCM) and other associated formations. Outputs from this project will improve the representation of the formations in future groundwater modelling that will support the revision of or the Surat UWIR in December 2015. However the existing UWIR groundwater model is continuing to be used for assessing regional impacts Annual Report 2013 for the Surat UWIR December 2013. It is understood the collection of baseline data, research and computer modelling all take time and substantial progress is being made. However, given that water resources are such an essential resource to life, the environment and other industries would it not be prudent to slow the pace of CSG development?

Cape York Regional Plan: On 25th November 2013, the QG released for comment a draft plan aimed at balancing economic development opportunities such as agriculture and mining, with protection of the regions’ significant natural and cultural resources  Land use was categorised General Use Areas (GUAs; areas where economic development activities are prioritised including agriculture, tourism and resource activities, while recognising that site specific environmental and cultural values remain important considerations in any development/resource proposal; 53% Cape York Region); Strategic Environmental Areas (SEAs; areas containing regionally significant values for biodiversity, water catchments and ecological function. Development supported if the development outcome does not present risk of irreversible or widespread impacts to the ecological integrity of the areas in supporting the region’s significant biodiversity; 32% Cape York Region) and National Parks (Development and activities in national parks may be facilitated where they are ecologically sustainable activities that protect an area’s natural condition and values; 15% Cape York Region)  The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve was drafted as an SEA.   

The Regional Planning Interests Bill 2013 introduced in Parliament on 20 November 2013 requires resource activities authorised under resource acts and other regulated activities to align with the regional land use policies in the regional plans as well as other government policy Regional planningB13.pdf.  At a State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee Hearing into the Bill 2013, Mr Barry Lyon, Senior Conservation Ranger, Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, Australia Zoo put the case that bauxite mining and land set aside for nature conservation purposes such as the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve were incompatible. With strip mining, large areas are cleared and bauxite, which is the supporting substrate for the ecosystem, is taken out and the landscape is lowered. When that substrate that supported the original ecosystem is gone, the hydrology is affected. Monsoonal rain that falls on the bauxite plateau filters through the bauxite into the deeper aquifer and feeds the springs, which then feed the Wenlock river   Public Hearing—Inquiry Into The Regional Planning Interests Bill 2013 Transcript Of Proceedings Wednesday, 12 February 2014 Brisbane.

Report NCWQ Environment Feb14