Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors. Darren Jew

Greg Hunt releases UNESCO-ordered reef report

THE cumulative impacts of future port developments along the Great Barrier Reef coastline will form a key part of environmental impact assessments, the draft strategic assessment of the reef revealed today.

While the report has given some weight to the role dredging and port developments play in the state of the reef, it highlighted more urgent concerns from nutrient run-off, climate change and the crown of thorns starfish.

Ordered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and delayed by more than six months by the previous federal government, Environment Minister Greg Hunt released the report in Townsville.

He said the report marked a new "halt and reverse" approach to turn the health of the reef around, including examining the cumulative impacts of both human activities and natural forces.

The report also recommended a new "net benefit policy" be introduced to help ensure any "activities" produce an overall benefit to the reef.

That policy may lead to a more extensive form of existing mitigation strategies, where if a development will damage the environment, then proponents must mitigate the activity by putting aside areas for preservation.

He was also joined by Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and state Environment Minister Andrew Powell, who released the state's coastal strategic assessment, the other key part of the UNESCO recommendations.

Mr Seeney said the state's assessment showed the "decisive steps" the Newman Government had taken to ensure the future health of the reef.

He also said it confirmed a commitment by the state government of a "prohibition" of any capital dredging of "deep water port facilities" outside of existing ports for the next decade.

Mr Seeney has previously said after the 10 years prohibition finishes, any further rules around port developments would be a decision of the government of the day.

However, environmental groups remain concerned about the impact of proposed dredging projects near the reef, including the Abbot Point proposal due for a decision next month.

WWF Australia spokesman Nick Heath said the assessments "give no room to approve dredging and dumping in the inshore waters of the reef".

"Two wrongs don't make a right. With the Reef in such a state already, often as a result of fertiliser pollution, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to dump in Reef waters," he said.

The report comes after a recent scientific report, completed for the Federal Environment Department, showed dredging impacts could be worse, and flow further on the reef, than previously thought.

Mr Hunt said the draft report was now open for public comment, and would remain so until January 30 next year, to allow adequate time for all stakeholders to have their say.

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area Strategic Assessment and the program reports can be downloaded here.

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