by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 06, 2014
An Australian plan to limit future port developments on or near the Great Barrier Reef to five areas was Friday criticised as "business as usual" and "destructive" by conservationists.
Queensland Infrastructure Minister Jeff Seeney said late Thursday the state's strategy would see future port developments centred on Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point and Mackay, Gladstone and Brisbane.
"Within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the Queensland government will prohibit dredging for the development of new, or the expansion of existing port facilities outside these port precincts, for the next decade," Seeney said.
"We understand the Great Barrier Reef is unique and special to all Queenslanders and we are committed to its protection for this, and future generations."
Seeney said the approach was consistent with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's recommendations to restrict port development in sensitive reef areas to existing major ports.
UNESCO has stated concerns about proposals for coastal development in the region including port and coal operations, with the body expected to discuss the issue at a meeting later this month.
"We understand that port infrastructure is essential to getting Queensland coal and agricultural produce to market, and this strategy ensures we can meet the future needs of those growing industries," Seeney said Thursday.
But the Australian Marine Conservation Society said the strategy showed the government intended to "industrialise" the Great Barrier Reef's coastline.
"The new policy won't stop a single port development or dredging proposal planned along the Queensland coast," campaigner Felicity Wishart said.
WWF-Australia said the plan for port expansions was "destructive" and put the state government on a collision course with the World Heritage Committee.
"Instead of banning dumping of dredge spoil in the reef World Heritage Area, the document sets out a plan for business as usual," spokesman Richard Leck said.
Australia gave the green light to the major coal port expansion for India's Adani Group at Abbot Point north of Brisbane last year subject to strict environmental conditions.
Conservationists slammed that approval, warning it would hasten the natural wonder's demise given it is under pressure from climate change, land-based pollution and crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks.
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