QLD reef study dismisses alarmist environmental concerns

A new report by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation has dismissed many of the claims regarding increased coal ships damaging the Great Barrier Reef.

Over the last two years environmental groups have raised concerns over the impact increasing numbers of coal ships will have on the reef, claiming that the proposed port and mine expansions at the Abbot Point Coal Terminal and Gladstone puts the Reef in danger.

Concerns were raised over the proposed explosion of growth in the Surat and Galilee Basins, and the increased levels of coal exported.

The United Nations has also previously expressed concern over the expansion of mining operations in Queensland and their potential to damage the Great Barrier Reef.

Greenpeace have claimed that around 11 400 coal ships will be travelling in the region.

The groups have also pointed directly to mine expansions as a threat to the Reef.

However the new report, by the Abbot Point Working Group and dubbed the Voluntary Cumulative Impact Assessment, has dismissed these concerns.

The study shows that when other commercial shipping, such as those carrying passengers and cargoes such as sugar, livestock, LNG, bauxite and general cargoes, is included then the total commercial ship number for 2020 is put at 7400.

The report was welcomed by the Queensland Resources Council.

"This new study shows that even when the optimistic forecasts from all coal port operators are tallied together, the coal shipping volumes by 2020 are more like 4200 or just 37 per cent of the Greenpeace claim," QRC chief Michael Roche said.

The shipping study found that "routine shipping presents no substantial risk of lasting damage to the environmental values of the reef; shipping within the reef is a highly regulated activity and that there are stringent management arrangements for commercial shipping; management of the impacts and risks from shipping in the reef area are found to be extremely well managed and improving over time; and the forecast increase in shipping traffic of itself presents a minimal change to the risks presented by shipping activity".

"Nevertheless the study does point to some important opportunities to further improve on risk management practices," Roche said.

"The report makes a number of recommendations to enhance the already stringent regulations on ship movements through the reef, including improvements to ship vetting, for both the quality of ships and their crew.

"'The Abbot Point Voluntary Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) is the first of its kind and sets a national benchmark for best practice environment management of future projects at the Port of Abbot Point."

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