Environmental management of Defence activities
The community has a strong interest in how Defence activities are undertaken in areas of environmental value. Defence has several important field training areas in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park including Shoalwater Bay, Halifax Bay and Cowley Beach. These training areas are regularly used by the Australian Defence Force and occasionally by other countries for land and sea based exercises including tactical manoeuvres, target firings, amphibious operations, mine hunting and support operations.
A range of political, social, economic and environmental issues are associated with Defence activities. Some of these issues - including security, economics, employment, research and navigation - are important for humans. In contrast, some environmental issues have resulted in community concern. These include the impact of high explosives on marine life, use of sonar, clean-up of unexploded ordinance (UXO), boat strikes of endangered species or sensitive habitats, and pollution from rubbish, sewage discharge and oil spills.
In managing Defence in the Marine Park, section 5.2(d) of the GBRMP Zoning Plan provides for use and entry without permission after notification to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and subject to any directions.
The Department of Defence is working closely with the GBRMPA, the Queensland Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the public to ensure their activities are managed in an ecologically-sustainable way. A three-phase approach has been adopted to ensure appropriate management:
- Consultation - occurring at local, state and national levels with a focus on the management of major training exercises and notification of environmentally significant incidents
- Research - focussing on dugongs
- Environmental impact management - considers the location, scale and risk of potential impacts, options and alternatives.
Large scale or high risk activities, while essential to training a modern military force, must also comply with relevant federal and state legislation. Preparation of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, initial environmental review, environmental management plan and environmental certificates of compliance are tools that are used to manage routine or low risk activities.
The Department of Defence and the GBRMPA are strongly committed to continuing to work closely together in a constructive and complementary way to ensure the protection, understanding and sustainable use of the Marine Park. To implement this commitment the GBRMPA and the Department of Defence have entered into a Management Agreement on the Implementation of the Strategic Environment Assessment of Defence Activities in the Marine Park.
A workshop Assessment of the risks of Defence activities in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was held in September 2005. The methodology followed the Australian standard. A summary of the findings of risk assessment and its interpretation are outlined in the following table:
The majority of Defence routine activities were deemed to have minor or negligible consequences on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Potentially major environmental consequences included:
- Introduction or translocation of marine pest species via hull fouling or ballast water
- The operation of nuclear powered warships (rare likelihood of impact).
Four activities were found to have risk rankings of 10 and above. These are civil activity exclusion, low level flying, residual debris and hull fouling. The high ranking of the first three activities relates to the certainty of the activity/effect happening, not on the ecological or social consequence of the activity or event. Civil activity exclusion will periodically occur, but on a temporary basis during some Defence exercises. Similarly, the ecological consequences of low flying aircraft and residual debris are spatially and temporally negligible. The effects of hull fouling, in contrast, are not inevitable, but should pest species be transferred to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area the consequence could be major.
Apart from ecological consequences, three activities and associated issues were considered to present a risk of compromising the public reputation of both Defence and GBRMPA. These were exclusion of civil activities during or arising from Defence activities, oil spills and the operation of nuclear powered warships in the Great Barrier Reef region.
All Defence activities and associated issues are currently managed in accordance with Defence and GBRMPA protocols to limit impacts to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Importantly, the risk evaluations are based upon current levels of Defence activity (for example number of vessels, area of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area used for Defence activities, volume of sewage discharged).
Current levels may not remain stable, however, and should there be an increase in the scale, tempo or intensity of Defence activities in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the risk assessments would need to be revisited to ensure adequacy of management measures.
If you're heading out on the water, don't forget your free Zoning Map so you know where you can go and what you can do.
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If you see sick, dead or stranded marine animals please call RSPCA QLD 1300 ANIMAL
(1300 264 625)
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