Australia is exploiting a questionable loophole in its pollution laws to dump a million tons of sludge on the Great Barrier Reef. In 2015, the government banned dumping sludge within the Great Barrier Reef’s boundaries, but that only applied to new or capital projects, and did not include sludge from maintenance projects. Taking advantage of this, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority recently approved the dumping over a million tons of dredging sludge — removed during the clearing and deepening of the Port of Hay Point — into the marine park. The dumping will take place over the next decade, beginning in March.
Environmentalists argue that adding one million tons of sludge to the reef will produce some pretty serious problems. Larissa Waters, Australia Green Party senator, said, “The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it […] One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.”
The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, however, which operates the port at Hay Point and developed the plan, argued that the risks to the Great Barrier Reef are low. The only ramifications, a statement says, are “some temporary, short-term impacts to benthic habitat [habitat at the bottom of the ocean].”
Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Center Southampton told the BBC that, “If they are dumping it over the coral reef itself, it will have quite a devastating effect. The sludge is basically blanketing over the coral.”
Last year, Australia made a record investment of $350 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef, a natural wonder that suffers greatly from coral bleaching, which is a phenomenon directly linked to climate change and poor waste management.