North Queensland Bulk Ports in swipe at environmentalists

ON A map, it is a tiny sliver of brown against a sea of blue.

But this tiny dash represents 3 million cubic metres of material to be pulled from the Whitsunday coastline through dredging.

Deepening the area is critical to expanding the State Government-owned Abbot Point Coal Terminal near Bowen.

Even the new Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt seems reluctant to weigh in on murky topic, delaying a decision on the project due this week until mid-December.

Abbot Point coal shipping map.
Abbot Point coal shipping map.

Indian miner Adani owns the only operating terminal at Abbot Point at the moment, which it contracts out to other miners so they can export coal.

Adani was this week accused of breaching environmental guidelines, which Mr Hunt said he would now investigate. Adani has reportedly said these were only minor infractions.

Mr Hunt is to visit Bowen today to meet the port's investors, opponents and the town's business community.

Environmental advocates believe the enormous scale of the dredging could put the Reef's health at risk.

The state-owned North Queensland Bulk Ports is confident they are wrong. It led a similar project in 2006 to expand the Hay Point terminal south of Mackay.

It shifted 8.6 million cubic metres of soil into the marine park, and NQBP chief executive Brad Fish said it was done with scarcely a peep from green groups.

"We received very little, if any, response from the various environmental groups," Mr Fish said.

In this latest effort, the sandy material will be taken from the coastline then moved to a "like-for-like" area. From start to finish, it will remain at least 40km from the nearest reef.

Mr Fish said there would be impacts from the operation, but these would be short-term. Aside from cloudiness of the water, caused by the movement of sand, seagrass will also be disturbed. NQBP will be asked to deliver something in return, an offset project to improve reef quality.

Mr Fish said those fighting hardest against the dredging were not trying to protect the environment; they wanted to destroy the coal industry. "It's much easier to put your energy into stopping a coal port, which might then stop five mines, than by fighting five mines individually," he said.

Australian Marine Conservation Society reef campaigner Felicity Wishart denied the claim. The AMCS is regularly critical of expansion along the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef.

"For organisations like mine, we have been actively trying to protect the reef for 40 years from oil drilling, limestone mining, over-fishing and now from industrial expansion," she said.

"The community wants to see the reef protected."

CORRECTION: The story originally stated that 30 million cubic metres would be dredged and has been changed to reflect the correct figure of 3 million cubic metres.