Progress being made to address Great Barrier Reef concerns
GREEN groups have again called for more significant action on dredging near the Great Barrier Reef, after a high-level meeting noted progress has been made to address international concerns about the reef.
New Federal Environment Minister Mark Butler met with his state counterpart Andrew Powell to discuss commitments to the reef in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Both ministers agreed to a new 2013 Reef Water Protection Plan and reaffirmed commitments to continue responses to the World Heritage Committee's concerns about the reef.
Mr Butler also released the latest report card on the reef, which showed progress on water quality, sediment and chemical run-off and programs to address the crown of thorns.
He said solid progress had been made on sediment and chemical run-off, with falls in nitrogen and pesticides reaching the reef.
Mr Powell said congratulations for the improvements rested with landholders, who have been key to ensuring run-off has been limited.
But after delays to an expected decision on approving a new dredging project at Abbot Point near Bowen, environmental groups remained concerned.
The Greens Senator Larissa Waters said despite the improvements, the "major threat to reef quality" - dredging and dumping of sediment - was still being ignored.
"Labor has approved the dumping of 17.5 million cubic metres of sediment into the Great Barrier Reef - that's 193 times the amount of sediment the Reef Rescue program has prevented from running off into the reef," she said.
"The Reef Rescue program gains are a drop in the ocean when you look at the masses of sediment being dumped into the Great Barrier Reef for the big mining companies."
Australian Marine Conservation Society campaigner Felicity Wishart said the meeting was a missed opportunity and that the gains made would be overshadowed by the threats of new port developments.
"Minister Butler will make a decision by early August on whether he will approve 3 million cubic metres of dredging at Abbot Point, just 50kms from the Whitsundays," she said.
"After the high level of concern raised by the World Heritage Committee about the threat of industrial development of the reef, we are disappointed that the Ministerial Forum has ignored this emerging threat."
Mr Butler said despite the improvements, poor water quality was still having a detrimental effect on reef health.
"To secure the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef it is critical that we build on the momentum of the previous reef plan with a focus on improving water quality and land management practices through ambitious but achievable targets," he said.