November 8th 2006
Hinchinbrook decision "Insulting"
Magnetic Island with its Nelly Bay Harbour and Cardwell with its Port Hinchinbrook development share a history of residents and conservation groups becoming actively involved in protests over marina development. At Nelly Bay the break walls and quarrying of Bright Point preceded the marina's construction while at Port Hinchinbrook approval was given last month by the federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell to allow two breakwaters to be constructed. Impacts of the environment are however common to both but at Port Hinchinbrook dugong in particular are seen by conservationists as the big losers.
Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook (ASH), spokesperson, Margaret Moorehouse told magnetictimes.com, "The only concession to the endangered wildlife of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (for which the Hinchinbrook Passage is their natural refuge) is a requirement to erect signage explaining to users the values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and actions they can take to minimise their impact on these values."
ASH referred to James Cook University's Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Professor of Environmental Science, Professor Helene Marsh, who stated that scientific studies had shown that the dugong populations along the Queensland coast south of Cooktown had declined "drastically" - making the point that increasing boating traffic would eventually push dugongs out of their habitat.
Professor Marsh wrote to the Cairns Bulletin, "Precautionary management is particularly important in dugong habitats such as the Hinchinbrook region and in my opinion should address all anthropogenic impacts including vessel strike and the potential for vessel traffic to alienate dugongs from key habitats."
Ms Moorhouse said "The Minister's decision is not merely disappointing, it is insulting to the special world heritage listed species that have long been shown to depend on this precise area for their sheer survival, and to the Australian people.
"In referring to the wildlife of the area the Minister clearly recognised that the Commonwealth has a duty to them. For the Minister to think that the Australian people would believe that mere signage is a substitute for Commonwealth protection goes beyond lipservice -- it just seems unbelievably cynical."
When asked how the Minister envisaged that signage would be sufficient in protecting Dugongs given their rapidly diminishing numbers a department spokesperson told magnetictimes.com, "Cardwell Shire Council did not apply to extend the size of the marina at Port Hinchinbrook, and the number of vessels able to be berthed within the marina will not changed with this decision.
"The speed of vessels in Queensland waterways, including the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, is regulated under Queensland legislation. Because of this, the approval does not contain a condition to regulate vessel speed.
"The signage is designed to inform the masters of visiting vessels about the sensitive nature of the marine environment in the Hinchinbrook Channel and how they can minimise their impact on it. This will include guidance about appropriate vessel speeds in key habitat areas for dugongs and green turtles."
In 1995 the Commonwealth Department of Environment gave this advice to, the then, Commonwealth Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill:
"Whilst possibly reducing the number of boat strikes, speed controls cannot be expected to reduce other vessel related threats to dugong, such as physical disturbance and noise, which may displace them from feeding grounds. If a full array of water sports, such as jet-skis, para-sailing and water skiing was to be present, disturbance levels would be raised. Any consent would need to ensure strict controls on the location and conduct of such activities and be managed through Queensland legislation ..."
Ms Moorhouse said: "Although Senator Hill gave consent for mangrove clearing and Port Hinchinbrook Stage I (as it is now known), at least he regarded the dugongs highly enough that he did not grant consent for breakwater walls to be built in the Hinchinbrook Passage at Oyster Point."
"Senator Campbell, on the other hand, appears to have joined the Queensland Government in abandoning the Hinchinbrook dugongs to gradual extinction."
Story: George Hirst
Photo by Steven Nowakowski giving a Hinchinbrook Channel district perspective of the development site which extends south to the Seafarm Spoil ponds. The breakwalls will extend from the front of the marina mouth
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