What does the Reef 2050 Plan mean for ports?
Almost all Australia’s goods are imported or exported through ports and ports are critical to maintaining and growing the Australian and Queensland economies. They enable the export of our manufactured, agricultural and mineral commodities and imports such as fuel, cars, medicinal and household goods that support our communities.
Brisbane is the largest container port with significant imports that service Queensland’s communities. The majority of Queensland’s export commodities are shipped through 10 ports located in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA), including the priority ports of Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbot Point and Townsville. The 10 Great Barrier Reef ports are collectively managed by four Port Authorities – North Queensland Bulk Ports, Gladstone Ports Corporation, The Port of Townsville and Ports North.
The ports sector has been an active partner in Reef management for many years and was the first industry body to deliver an action under the Reef 2050 Plan.
Ports have also been the subject of a significant regulatory reform agenda delivered as part of the Reef 2050 Plan. The 2019 Outlook Report acknowledged the benefits of these reforms and highlighted that Queensland ports continue to be well managed.
Ports are strongly committed to sustainability and ensuring that the natural values in and surrounding port areas are conserved and protected.
Significant port reform
The Australian and Queensland governments have delivered the following reforms to improve the management of ports:
- Introduction of the Sustainable Ports Development Act and development of the Priority Ports Master Planning Guideline.
- Completing Master plans for the sustainable development of the priority ports of Gladstone and Townsville with plans for Hay Point/Mackay and Abbot Point underway.
- Developing the Queensland Maintenance Dredging Strategy to guide sustainable, leading practice management of maintenance dredging.
- Restricting new port activities and development to within established ports.
- Prohibiting transhipment of bulk materials outside port extents.
- Restricting capital dredging to four major ports along the Reef coast and limiting capital dredging for Cairns port.
- Prohibiting the disposal of capital dredge material in the World Heritage Area and Marine Park.
The port sector has delivered the following projects which support the broader port reforms:
- Conducting research on sediments and dredging at Great Barrier Reef ports which places port-related sediment into context with other local and regional sources of sediment in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Developing and implementing the Ports Australia Dredging Code of Practice which establishes environmental principles for dredging and reusing, relocating, or disposing of dredged material.
- Developing and implementing Long Term Maintenance Dredge Management Plans for all Great Barrier Reef ports.
- Partnering with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to voluntarily implement the Queensland Seaports Environmental DNA (eDNA) Surveillance program for early warning detection of invasive marine species such as the Black striped false mussel (Mytilopsis sallei).
- Developing and implementing sustainability strategies and plans in accordance with the Ports Australia Port Sustainability Strategy Development Guide.
- Continuing to implement major monitoring and research programs that examine water quality and the health of seagrass, coral, and other key environmental indicators.
Long-term seagrass monitoring partnership
Queensland Ports have funded a seagrass monitoring and research partnership with James Cook University (JCU) for more than 27 years. The program assesses substantial seagrass meadows in all commercial trading ports within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and extends to the Torres Strait and Gulf of Carpentaria. Results feed into the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday and Gladstone regional report cards as well as the RIMReP seagrass program design. Results from the program have significantly advanced knowledge on tropical seagrass ecology and management.
Understanding the impact of sediments and dredging in the Great Barrier Reef region
Over 18 months, Queensland Ports worked on a research program to:
“Understand the port sediment characteristics and risks at the major ports and how they interact and contribute to broader catchment contributions within the World Heritage Area.”
These ports operate in a highly dynamic sediment environment. Inshore areas along the coast are naturally turbid with large volumes of marine sediment being resuspended in the water column daily. Shipping channels, swing basins and berths at ports are regularly filled by this sediment, which is transported by waves and currents from surrounding shallower areas. Studying these patterns allows ports to manage their operations in a sustainable way that does not adversely affect the Reef.
Early warning detection of Invasive Marine Species (Q-SEAS program)
Since 2019, Queensland Ports have partnered with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to voluntarily implement the Queensland Seaports Environmental DNA (eDNA) Surveillance program (Q-SEAS program) for early warning detection of invasive marine species (IMS).
The Q-SEAS program builds on regimes that Queensland ports have had in place for several decades and incorporates world leading molecular techniques to detect the presence of IMS at key ports.
The program has significantly improved the detection capability of IMS using methods that are faster, cheaper and safer than traditional marine pest surveillance methods. Queensland Port Authorities and Biosecurity Queensland received the 2021 Australian Biosecurity Award in the industry category for the Q-SEAS program.
How was the ports industry involved in developing the Reef 2050 Plan?
The Reef 2050 Plan was developed in consultation with the Reef 2050 advisory bodies and stakeholders.
The Queensland Ports Association is a member of the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee and made a submission on the draft Plan.
What’s next for Reef 2050?
The Australian and Queensland governments will continue to work collaboratively with partners to implement the updated Reef 2050 Plan.
The ports industry will be engaged directly and through its representative on the Reef Advisory Committee.
The ports industry will also actively contribute to improving Reef understanding through their ongoing research and monitoring projects.
Projects expected to be delivered in the next few years include master plans for the priority ports of Hay Point/Mackay and Abbott Point and including port monitoring data into the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program (RIMReP).