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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.  http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/visit-the-reef/eye-on-the-reef  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. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/visit-the-reef/current-conditions-on-the-great-barrier-reef  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. http://greghunt.com.au/Media/MediaReleases/tabid/86/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2801/250000-crown-of-thorns-starfish-culled.aspx

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. https://theconversation.com/lets-dump-great-barrier-reef-dredging-myths-authority-chief-22991

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. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/toxic-spill-closes-clive-palmers-yabulu-nickel-refinery/story-e6frg9df-1226884389580

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 http://www.gasfieldscommissionqld.org.au/whats-happening/regional-planning-laws-passed.html, 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.  http://www.edo.org.au/edoqld/news/parliamentary-committee-recommends-regional-planning-interests-bill-2013-be-passed/

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.  http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2014/3/12/australias-biggest-oil-rerefinery-opens-in-queensland   

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. https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/water/monitoring/voluntary-nutrient-management.html

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/gov.au  Back from the Brink Issue #6

 NCWQ Environment Adviser May 2014

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