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. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/d98b3e53-146b-4b9c-a84a-2a22454b9a83/files/reef-2050-long-term-sustainability-plan.pdf. 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. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-04/fact-check-great-barrier-reef/6333178Updated 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 http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2015/5/7/chief-scientist-leads-new-taskforce-to-help-save-great-barrier-reef

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), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.073

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. http://www.edoqld.org.au/court-cases/

UUpdate on coal seam gas (CSG): Fugitive emissions and impacts on water from coal seam gas mining are still very much a concern. https://theconversation.com/science-and-coal-seam-gas-a-case-of-the-tortoise-and-the-hare-35100 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. http://theconversation.com/coal-seam-gas-is-just-the-latest-round-in-an-underground-war-35164. 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. http://www.energy.unimelb.edu.au/node/605. 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. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2015/4/24/wind-farm-to-contribute-to-fnq-energy-

 NCWQ Environment Adviser May2015

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