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. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/hunt/2015/mr20150701b.htm 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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.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. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2015/5/21/rangers-and-researchers-work-for-green-turtles-secured-with-corporate-funding. 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. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2015/6/8/shopping-bags-threaten-moreton-bay-turtles

 

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 http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2008/03/06/2180898.htm http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/05/14/4220031.htm Another research project of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology is recycling end-of-life industrial components into carbon resources for ferrous alloys. http://smart.unsw.edu.au/transforming-industrial-waste-valuable-carbons-iron-carbon-alloys-fundamental-investigations 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. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4107267.htm

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