Given the propensity of the conservative Queensland government to denigrate anything that might be good for the environment, and given that the Premier, Campbell Newman is “in the business of coal mining”, and given their track record of dismantling departments associated with environmental protection, and changing the way development approvals are processed, it will be interesting to see how they respond to this… from the Guardian:
Gladstone Harbour dredging project linked to mud crab disease
A new report says almost 40% of mud crabs collected in the Queensland harbour show signs of shell disease
The Queensland government has been urged to pause all new dredging projects and launch a full inquiry following new research that shows that levels of marine wildlife disease around Gladstone Harbour are far greater than previously thought.
Data collected by Future Fisheries Veterinary Service, and shown to Guardian Australia, reveals that 39% of mud crabs collected around Gladstone Harbour tested positive for distinctive “rust spots” that indicate shell disease from ingested metals such as copper and aluminium.
A Queensland government report released last year found that just 5% of Gladstone Harbour mud crabs had shell disease.
The Future Fisheries report shows that instances of shell disease soar in locations closer to the site of the controversial Western Basin dredging and disposal project, which started digging up and dispersing 26m cubic metres of seabed in order to enlarge Gladstone Harbour in 2011. Of the 618 mud crabs analysed in the report, 61% of those taken from next to the dredging site had shell disease, compared with just 7% from 32km away.
The report points to a 37% decrease in the number of mud crabs caught by fishing fleets in the year following the start of the dredging.
The report’s further analysis of metallic poisoning, funded by activist group GetUp!, found high levels of copper, arsenic, aluminium and other metals in the crabs, sea turtles and sea grass in the vicinity of Gladstone.
The crabs had ingested an average of 219mg of copper across the harbour, with one site clocking up an average of 444mg. By contrast, samples taken from Stanage Bay, 250km north of Gladstone, show an average of just 76.4mg of copper.
High levels of arsenic were found in the crabs, while samples of sea grass, eaten by creatures such as sea turtles and dugongs, showed a high level of aluminium. Analysis of two dead turtles found an average of 74.4mg of aluminium in their stomachs.
However, the report states there is no danger to human health from ingested metals.
Dr Matt Landos, author of the report, says that “dirty and rushed” dredging at Gladstone has decimated marine wildlife and a halt to similar projects was needed while an inquiry identified flaws in the approval process.
“The Gladstone Ports Corporation, which managed the dredging and disposal, did no baseline testing on the basic health of marine life, nor any analysis on metals in crabs or fish,” Landos says. “It was clear there was a risk of this, as it was mentioned in the environmental impact statement, but they went ahead with the dirtiest of dredging technology.
“They could’ve used suction technology and silt curtains, as used in dredging in Melbourne, to reduce the amount of sediment dispersed into the ecosystem. Inexplicably, they didn’t do this. I can only imagine [it was] because they were in one hell of a rush to do it as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
Landos’s warnings of fish diseases have clashed with a CSIRO report that pointed to stormwater run-off from the 2011 floods as causing damage to marine wildlife.
Landos says: “If floods were to blame, we’d see crab disease up and down the coast. That didn’t occur anywhere but Gladstone. We didn’t see fish with red lesions and parasites chewing their eyes out anywhere but Gladstone.”
A spate of sea turtles were found to have died following the start of the dredging, with blood tests finding heightened levels of metal. The local fishing industry has also raised concerns about the health of marine life and has been offered compensation. However, no testing of sea grass, considered vital to the aquatic food chain, was done prior to the Future Fisheries report.
The federal government, which has oversight of threatened species, is considering whether to allow dredging at another port at Abbot Point, while an additional shipping lane at Gladstone will require further dredging. Meanwhile, an independent review of the health of Gladstone Harbour is expected soon.
“The approvals process is completely broken for these projects,” says Landos. “The state government is regulating something from which it will derive royalties. There needs to be an independent body to solve this conflict of interest.
“The losses of animals have been so severe that some inshore dugongs and dolphins may not be able to sustain their populations. The acute killing may have stopped, but we’ve lost mangroves and sea grass forever. The productivity of the area has been severely reduced.”
A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Environment says: “Since concerns were raised in August 2011 by commercial fishers about the health of fish in Gladstone waterways, Gladstone Harbour has undergone a rigorous testing regime.
“The whole-of-government investigation has involved 12 months of fish health, water quality and sediment sampling and testing as well as on-going investigations into any health concerns reported by fishers in the Gladstone area.
“The findings in the Gladstone Harbour 2012 Program Report, released in January this year, showed no evidence to link water quality with illness in fish or people and, pleasingly, clear evidence that fish health has improved significantly.
“In addition to this extensive testing program, the Newman government has acted to establish the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership, [which] will receive independent peer-reviewed advice from a scientific panel.
“This scientific advice will also form the basis of a new report card that will ensure the community is informed of the health of the harbour in an open and transparent way.”
Given that Newman wants to see a massive increase in the number of ships carrying coal and natural gas through the Great Barrier Reef and given the dredging of the harbour will accommodate that, I predict that the peer reviewed scientific advice will be ignored.
Original article here