NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, July 2017

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has confirmed an estimated 29 % of shallow water corals died from bleaching in 2016, up from the 22 % estimated mid-2016. Also coral bleaching extended to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but that mortality cannot be systematically assessed. In 2017, further coral loss is expected with a pattern similar to 2016, but most severe in the centre of the Reef between Cairns and Townsville. Ongoing thermal stress is also causing elevated coral disease.

Tropical cyclone Debbie impacted around a quarter of the Reef in early 2017. Due to its category four intensity and slow speed as it crossed the reef, coral mortality is expected to be high in this zone, which includes the Whitsunday Islands tourism area.

There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts.

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.”

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.

Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program: Wetlands in the Central Queensland (19), Cape York (10), Far North Queensland (5), North Queensland (6) and Wide Bay Burnett (10) regions, which are representative of the natural freshwater wetlands, have been assessed to provide baseline data of the GBR catchment wetlands’ conditions and processes so that positive and negative trends can be detected over time. Wetlands can not only reduce the impact of sediment run-off from river and creek systems but are also intrinsically invaluable in their own right, recharging ground water, providing important habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including commercially important species of fish.  Preliminary results of research by Dr Fernanda Adame from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, indicate wetlands can remove nitrogen from the water and that forested wetlands have higher carbon and nitrogen storage capacity compared to marshes.

Clean energy technologies: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has invested around $20 million into a project at the Pilgangoora open pit mine.(Western Australia)  which produces lithium concentrate, an essential component in electric vehicles and battery storage.

Tidal energy which is created through tidal movement and the vertical fluctuations in sea level and the horizontal flow of the water, has the potential to be available for more than 18 hours a day. The only slack period between high and low tide is predictable so tidal generation technology could be integrated to enhance the country’s grid stability, or to provide support to off-grid industrial sites and remote communities. A $6 million three year project led by the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania, in partnership with CSIRO and University of Queensland and supported by a $2.5 million investment by the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will map the scale and distribution of Australia’s tidal energy resources. Potential sites and the technical performance modelling of known tidal energy devices and environmental impact will be assessed.

New Acland Stage 3 mine expansion at Oakey, Darling Downs: On 31 May 2017 Queensland Land Court recommended outright rejection of the New Acland Stage 3 mine proposal to expand coal production to 7.5 million tonnes per year on the following grounds:-

  1. Groundwater: Major shortcomings with the groundwater impact predictions proposed risks to the surrounding landholders;
  2. Noise: A stricter night time noise limit should be applied but is not permitted by the current legislation;
  3. Agricultural land was among the best 1.5% of agricultural land in Queensland and significant from an agricultural perspective;
  4. Intergenerational equity;
  5. Economics: While there would be a positive economic impact overall the loss of $437 million in royalties was significant and the high job figures in the Environmental Impact Study are not supported, rather 680 net jobs were accepted;
  6. Dust: If the mine was to proceed, it should be subject to additional monitoring requirements, including online real time forecasts and results, and additional dust limits to protect nearby residents;

The Maranoa-Balonne-Condamine assessment conducted by CSIRO and Geoscience and drawing on advice from Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas Extraction and Large Coal Mines found that impacts of the New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion and The Range coal mine on water resources in the region will be limited to small areas near the mines. :

Proposed Bio-industries: Bio Processing Australia has proposed a $50 million biorefinery at Mackay with $8.64 million assistance from the Queensland Government. The facility will comprise:-

A commercial-scale advanced biofuels pilot plant in Yarwun, Gladstone will take agricultural waste such as bagasse from sugar production and turn it into biofuels.

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser


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