Miles of coastline in Australia have been declared a disaster zone after a large oil spill from a storm-damaged cargo ship.
At least 40 miles (60km) of the southeastern shore of Queensland were contaminated as an estimated 42 tonnes of oil spilt into the ocean from the MV Pacific Adventurer on Wednesday night. The ship, which had sailed into cyclonic weather, lost 31 containers, one of which pierced the hull and a fuel tank.
“It may well be the worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen,” said Anna Bligh, the state premier. She has declared Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast disaster zones. The northern tip of Moreton Island, where the worst of the spill damage occurred, was declared a marine national park only two weeks ago. The island is noted for its populations of dugong, green turtles and bottlenose dolphins. (Read More)
- “Cyclone ship causes coastline oil disaster” (The Times, 13th March)
- “Oil Spill: Queensland beaches declared disaster zones” (ABC News, 13th March)
- “Concern for dolphins as oil slick spreads” (ABC News, 13th March)
- “Oil spill off Australian coast creates an environmental disaster” (LA Times, 14th March)
- “Official: Australian oil spill worse than thought” (AP, 15th March)
- “Oil spill could take a month to clean” (The Age, 15th March)
A report released yesterday by the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh showed that water quality on the Great Barrier Reef is not improving, and that further action is needed to reverse the ongoing decline. As part of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan initiated by the Australian and Queensland governments, the 2007 Water Quality Report is the first step in a four year process, addressing water quality issues such as catchment pressures, marine ecosystem health and land management practices affecting the Queensland coastline and Great Barrier Reef.
Some of the key findings of the report seem to confirm what scientists have previously observed: that over the last 150 years, the catchments adjacent to inshore reefs have been extensively modified for agriculture (e.g. sugar cane), cattle and sheep grazing, tourism, mining and urban development, leading to significant increased in sediments, nutrients and pesticides impacting upon the inshore Great Barrier Reef. From the report, monitoring of priority catchments has shown that:
- 6.6 million tonnes of sediment are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (four times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)
- 16,600 tonnes of nitrogen are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (five times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)
- 4,180 tonnes of phosphorous are discharged in the reef lagoon annually (four times higher than estimated pre-European settlement levels)
In response to the report, Premier Bligh called for a summit on reef water-quality issues in the next month:
“Work done to date as part of the Plan includes financial incentives to help farmers improve land management practices and targeting diffuse pollution from broadscale land use,”
“However, since 2003 many external factors have deteriorated including the effects of climate change, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
“It has increased the urgency for more work to be done.
“I have discussed this matter with the Prime Minister and met with Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
“We agreed that the first step will be a joint Commonwealth-state reef water quality summit at Parliament House at the end of this month,” she said.
“The summit will bring together the best minds from the environmental and scientific fields to study the latest data and discuss what urgent action we need to take to prevent further damage to – or worse – the complete demise of the reef.” (Link to Media Statement)
The Environment Minister Peter Garrett also acknowledges the issue:
“We’ve specifically committed $200 million to reef rescue knowing that we need to provide additional resources, additional investment, and additional effort to safeguard what is one of our most important national and international natural resources and treasures” (Link)
I look forward to the proposed summit and applaud the Queensland government for taking such forward action in addressing water quality issues – it seems for Peter Garrett (pictured above left in typical Midnight Oil attire) there is no excuse!
ABC News, 5th July
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it accepts the findings of the Garnaut report on the impact of climate change on the reef.
The report found if carbon emissions are not reduced, the reef could die within decades.
The Authority’s Russel Reichelt says governments and industry must take strong action to protect the reef.
He says the Garnaut report relied on 15 years of scientific research into global warming.
"It’s also relying on the forecast from the inter-governmental panel on climate change, which have painted a range of futures, but even the rosiest future causes me great concern that the reef will be severely damaged within 20 to 40 years," he said.
The Queensland Tourism Industry Council also accepts the report’s findings.
Chief executive Daniel Gschwind says a report delivered four years ago showed carbon emissions could kill the reef.
He says the reef is worth about $5 billion annually and must be protected.
"We’re very conscious of the role that tourism plays and the effect it could have on tourism if we don’t do the right thing, so it is a very important issue for our industry, it’s an industry that is all based on conservation and nature," he said.
"We will certainly study the report with some interest."
The Queensland EPA has just released a major report outlining the escalating risks of a changing climate for this great state. Out of the Australian states, Queensland looks like it will particularly hard hit – perhaps with a 5oC increase in temperature by 2070. Maybe we should think twice about exporting so much coal without any real strategy for the associated emissions? The future is in our hands. Read on …