Sediment scooped up from the sea floor during maintenance work at nearby Hay Point Port will be ditched under a permit granted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
“Dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip,” said Larissa Waters, a senator for The Greens party.
The plans have been approved barely a week after warnings filthy water from recent floods in Queensland could cause irreparable damage to the reef by blocking sunlight and preventing photosynthesis which the coral relies on to survive.
Although sludge dumping in the area is largely illegal, a loophole in the ban – it does not cover the discarding of waste created during port maintenance work – means the new permit can be granted.
“Government policy needs to change to ban all offshore dumping, so GBRMPA is not allowed to permit the reef’s waters to be used as a cheaper alternative to treating the sludge and disposing of it safely onshore,” Ms Waters told the The Guardian.
But North Queensland Bulk Ports, which runs Hay Point, said such action caused little environmental damage.
“Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively,” it said in a statement posted online. “Maintenance dredging involves relocating sediment which travels along the coast and accumulates over the years where our shipping operation occurs.
“Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary, short-term impacts to [some bottom-dwelling] habitat possible.
“The permits allow for the long-term, sustainable management of maintenance dredging and will safeguard the efficient operations of one of Australia’s most critical trading ports.”
More about: Australia