The future development of coal ports across Queensland have been thrown under a spotlight following the release of UNESCO report.
The report looks at their coal ports their affect on the nearby Great Barrier Reef, in particular the impact increased shipping may have on the world heritage site.
One of the main recommendations from the report was for the development of a strategic assessment and a resulting long term plan for the sustainable development of the Great Barrier Reef area that aligned with the mining industry's own developments and studies into the impacts of the planed Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen.
However it did note that this assessment is underway, with the Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche adding that "these independent studies are going to be rolled into a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all activities associated with Abbot Point's proposed expansion for public consultation and government review".
It is believed that the assessment is the first of its kind in Australia, where major project participants have joined together to examine the cumulative impacts from all of theor proposed projects.
The participants are North Queensland Bulk Ports and the three most advanced coal project proponents at Abbot Point – Adani, BHP Billiton and GVK Hancock.
The assessment involves 15 individual expert studies, with each of the organisations involved sharing leadership and costs on individual studies.
These studies will be incorporated into a Cumulative Impact Assessment report released in the second half of 2012 for public consultation and government review.
The Greens and environmental groups were quick to attack the development of the port, saying that the UNESCO report outlines the damage the expansions were causing, and that a draft decision may consider putting project approvals on hold during the preparation of the overall strategic assessment.
This was rejected by the QRC, which said the report does not include any reference to a decision.
However it does recommend that no new port developments occur outside of existing, long established major port areas near the Reef.
Roche was quick to dismiss what he called "alarmist claims from the anti-coal movement", adding 'the report should be welcomed for ignoring the alarmist claims of Greenpeace and their fellow travellers, whose only objective is shutting down Queensland's most successful export industries".
The recently released report did investigate the claims that the developments would damage water quality.
On page 24 of the UNESCO report it referred directly to a measured decline in reef quality in the inshore areas south of Cook Town.
Roche was quick to point out there are no resource related port or other infrastructure in this area.
The full assessment of the developments will be released later this year.