Dredging and spoil disposal in the Marine Park

Dredging activities and the dumping of dredge spoil within the Marine Park are activities that require environmental impact assessment and permitting. In addition to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) specific legislation, there are international, Commonwealth and state laws that control dredging and dumping at sea to reduce and manage the associated impacts on the marine environment.

International

  • 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of wastes and other Matter, 1972 (the Protocol to the London Convention).

Federal

  • Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981

Queensland

  • Marine Parks Act 2004
  • Marine Park Regulation 2006

Policy and guidelines

  • GBRMPA - Dredging Policy
  • Environmental Protection Agency - Disposing of material in tidal waters
  • Memorandum of understanding between GBRMPA and Queensland Ports Association - 2009

For sea dumping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Sea Dumping Act is administered by GBRMPA. The Act does not cover operational discharges from ships, such as sewage and galley scraps. Those are regulated by the Protection of the Sea Legislation administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Background

Dredging activity has occurred in the Great Barrier Reef region since ports were established along the Queensland coast. Most large-scale dredging and dredge material disposal activities in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area are associated with the operation of ports in Queensland such as Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Hay Point and Gladstone.

Dredging and material placement (also called spoil dumping) have relatively well-known potential impacts such as degradation of water quality, changes to hydrodynamics, smothering of benthic fauna and flora, damage to marine wildlife through the dredge mechanism, translocation of species and removal of habitat.

If inappropriately managed, dredging activities may impact areas of conservation value. Dredging and material placement processes need to be carefully managed to ensure any adverse effects are prevented or confined to areas of low conservation value.

Most of the proposals examined by GBRMPA are located in the inshore areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, often adjoining and sometimes straddling federal, state and local government jurisdictions.