Four Corners and reporter Marian Wilkinson take you inside the agency that approved one of the most contentious environmental decisions this year. In January, the body tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef approved a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredge spoil inside the marine park to expand the Abbot Point coal port.
The decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has shocked and angered the scientific community. Internal documents obtained by Four Corners reveal deep divisions between the scientists and bureaucrats behind the decision. They show that the dumping was approved despite previous recommendations from senior scientists that it be rejected.
“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard.” – Dr Charlie Veron, marine scientist
But the Chairman of the Marine Park Authority denies the decision was political and the Federal Environment Minister insists it will take place under the strictest environmental conditions.
Four Corners speaks to a senior director who recently left the Authority. He says bluntly that the dumping should not go ahead.
The dumping approval also comes as scientists are confirming a link between port dredging and deadly coral disease for the first time.
This week the Marine Park Authority released a report showing the Great Barrier Reef has significantly declined in just the last five years. It confirms climate change and ocean acidification are threatening the very survival of the reef.
It all comes at a critical moment in the reef’s history. In June, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee criticised the dumping decision. Next year it will decide whether to place the Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage “In Danger” list.
“We’re dealing with a World Heritage area, the most important World Heritage area on the planet… Our own legislative mandate says ‘the long-term protection and conservation of the values’, and we’re not doing that.” – former director, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
BATTLE FOR THE REEF, reported by Marian Wilkinson and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 18th August at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 19th August at 11.00am and 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview.