Monthly Archives: November 2013

Clive Palmer and water security in the Galilee Basin

Click here for the "Palmer Drama" 4 Corners episode.

For those concerned about the total impacts of the mines on regional groundwater, there is also on the same page an excellent interview with the former manager of water allocation for the Qld Government, Tom Crothers.

To hear his interview in full (12 minutes), click here (same link as before) and under the little picture of Clive Palmer with a dinosaur on the right, click on the lowest video link.

Thank you to Galilee Basin Alliance for the heads up on this interview.

Summary of the 4 Corners episode:
Monday 25 November 2013

He's a new breed of politician, never before seen in Australia - a man who uses his personal wealth to win political power.

Clive Palmer says he's bankrolled the Palmer United Party to give voice to millions of Australians who can't afford a lobbyist, but can we take him at his word?

Next on Four Corners, reporter Marian Wilkinson examines the rise and rise of Clive Palmer in politics and business, and investigates how the two are connected. She spends time with the newly elected Member for Fairfax in Queensland. She speaks to key political players, including former members of the Queensland Liberal National Party, a party Palmer once so readily supported but now wants to replace.

What she discovers is a complex web of financial and political connections that potentially make him one of the richest and most powerful men in Australia.

At the same time, she uncovers crucial information that suggests Palmer's rise could be followed by an equally rapid fall if things don't go the way he plans.

Fish fears rise over LNG port dredging

Fish fears rise over LNG port dredging

AN outbreak of diseased fish in Gladstone Harbour coincided with a toxic algal bloom that may have been fed by a leaking rock wall used to contain dredge spoils from the $33 billion Curtis Island LNG projects.

Gladstone Ports Corporation has known about the algal bloom and increased sediment from its infrastructure works for more than two years but only in recent weeks has it made the reports publicly available.

It said it still believed that heavy flooding was the primary cause of the outbreak of fish disease in 2011, as established by a scientific review.

However, the just-published 2011 report says it is "possible that harmful algal blooms may have been a possible contributing factor in the fish disease syndrome".

Veterinarian Matt Landos, who has investigated fish health in Gladstone, said the newly published material provided a convincing alternative point of view.

"Scientists can only work with the data which is provided to them," Dr Landos said.

"The full data now seriously contradicts the conclusions of the state and commonwealth that floods were to blame.

"Given the serious nature of the 'new' information that is now in the public realm, another independent review of the science around causes of Gladstone ecosystem crisis seems warranted, in addition to an inquiry into the decision-making around information control during the project."

The head of the scientific panel for the state's review, Ian Poiner, confirmed that the algae reports were not available at the time of its review into fish health and said he had not studied them in detail to determine whether they contradicted the official finding that the marine-health issues were related to flooding.

Dr Poiner is now chairman of Queensland government's Gladstone Healthy Harbour Panel.

A spokeswoman for GPC, whose dredging project is essential for the development of the Curtis Island liquefied natural gas plant, said the reports were made available to the federal government's independent review panel, which was requested by UNESCO.

The Weekend Australian revealed plans by GPC to dump 12 million cubit metres of dredge spoils into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area have been blocked by Canberra. The spoils from the dredging of a second sea lane will now be used to reclaim land in Gladstone Harbour.

GPC has previously conceded environmental problems caused by a "leaking" bund wall designed to contain dredge spoils.

Gladstone Harbour was closed to fishing in September 2011, following reports from commercial fishermen in August that many fish were showing signs of disease. The ban was lifted but commercial fishermen continued to report high numbers of turtle, dugong and dolphin deaths.

GPC said it commissioned the special water-quality report in October 2011 after higher turbidity readings were recorded during this period, "due to extreme tidal movements, high wind conditions and the porosity of the bund wall".

The report finds "highly turbid waters were most likely created in September/October 2011 due to the addition of fine sediments derived from the overly porous bund wall and dredge-related operations".

It said organic matter comprised a large proportion of the total suspended sediments measured in October 2011, suggesting an algal bloom, particularly in the Western Basin area of the harbour. "Several potential harmful algal species were identified, which have previously been associated with fish kills."

An analysis of the algal bloom by Larelle Fabbro, from Central Queensland University, found three algal types, including Chaetoceros, had previously been associated with fish kills.

"There is scientific evidence that concentrations of Chaetoceros of more than five cells per millilitre can kill fish," Associate Professor Fabbro writes in her report. She says "concentrations of Chaetoceros were as high as 300 cells per millilitre in a sample taken on 12 October, 2011".

"The spines of this diatom spear into the gills and can result in significant damage," the report says.

"The sequence of injury is by initial penetration of the silica spines into the fish gills, capillary bleeding or the production of excessive quantities of mucus leading to death by suffocation."

Associate Professor Fabbro told The Australian it was a condition of her research that she not make any public comment.

But the 2011 report says "the finding of potentially toxic algal species was also of note in light of the fish disease syndrome which was being concurrently investigated in Port Curtis".

"A number of fish, particularly barramundi, had previously been presented in Port Curtis with lesions, rashes and excess mucous production with the syndrome being the focus of a separate independent investigation," it says. "Therefore it is possible that harmful algal blooms may have been a possible contributing factor in the fish disease syndrome."

GPC has confirmed that the water quality reports for September and October 2011 were not made publicly available until September this year.

But it said all relevant reports had been made to all government departments and relevant agencies.

It said the key finding was that research indicates an algal bloom was present in August 2011 prior to the start of dredging with the cutter-section dredge.

"Several potential harmful algal species were identified, which had been previously associated with fish kills," it said. "The algal species identified were not uncommon for the Port Curtis area, for that time of year."

It said an independent panel had concluded that, based on all data available, the most likely cause of fish health issues were flood-related.

- See more at:

Eco expert says GPC may have breached federal law


Eco expert says GPC may have breached federal law

 Daniel Burdon

 15th Nov 2013 5:00 AM

THE university behind a study of a toxic chemical in Gladstone Harbour has debunked Gladstone Ports Corporation's claim that it was not allowed to give results to regulators.

And an expert has claimed omitting the study from the environmental impact statement for the Western Basin Dredging project may have breached federal law.

APN revealed last week the port did not tell state or federal environmental authorities about the 2009 study, even after a fish disease outbreak in 2011.

The study found the impact of tributyltin (TBT) - a toxic chemical once used in anti-fouling paints - was worsening for molluscs in some areas of the dredging footprint.

But a port spokeswoman said last week sediment testing found "no or very little contamination issues" from TBT.

Environmental law expert Dr Chris McGrath said the failure to include the report in the EIS may have breached the port's duty to provide information under the Commonwealth approval process.

The University of Queensland lecturer and barrister admitted EIS statements are often "sales brochures that are clearly not a hard look at the project".

He said any proponent that did not provide important information in the EIS could be open to prosecution "for providing false and misleading information to the Commonwealth to gain an approval".

"(Even if) you say something that's literally true, (it) could be misleading when you leave out key bits of information," he said.

The port last week denied it withheld the information from authorities, saying it was not authorised to release the study's findings, and it was not considered "primary research".

But Central Queensland University has confirmed there were no conditions placed on GPC's use of the study or its findings.

"As a partner, they were free to use the information provided to them," a CQU spokesman said.

The GPC declined to respond to questions for today's report.

Taking the Blame

Author: Anna Hitchcock

NB: The opinions in this article are the author's own.


It seems incredible to me that so many people have such a hard time accepting that human activity might be to blame for some of the ecological (and human) disasters out there.

As a scientist, I simply look at the facts first.

And the first thing I need to accept - for the proof is right in front of me - is that everything I do, from breathing to drinking a cup of coffee, has an impact on other aspects of my world. After all, my choices create the personal world I live in.

I chose to live in this house, I chose this sort of breakfast, I chose this brand of coffee at the supermarket.

Each one of those choices (large or small) has consequences for my external environment. I choose to shop at this supermarket over that one. Therefore I am partially responsible for that supermarket's success. Therefore I am partially responsible for when they remove koala habitat for their next store.

Now if you take all those consequences to their logical extreme, you would be paralysed into doing nothing at all. But even your death has consequences for the world. There is energy used to deal with your body, to redistribute any wealth you may have built up, to grieve your passing.

And this is why I find it very peculiar that people object when we dare to suggest that a major cumulative human impact like the dredging of Gladstone Harbour might have further reaching impacts down the years.

Apparently we are 'blaming everything that happens on the dredging'. No we are not. But the science regarding extra nutrients causing algal blooms has been settled for a long time.

We know that algal blooms in this area are a 'natural' occurrence. But the scientist in me says this - for how long have these blooms been occurring? What size were they in 1900 compared to now? How frequent were the fish kills and how large were the fish that died? Just how 'natural' are they? Algae is of course a natural part of the ecosystem, and ecosystems ebb and flow and occasionally get out of balance. But why is it taboo to suggest that human activity may have intensified the algal bloom? I don't know to what percentage until someone does the science, but excess algae is a sign of a sick ecosystem. Is it so hard to accept that we might have contributed to this?

Similarly with the large muttonbird or shearwater die off this year. It is very easy to dismiss this as a 'natural' occurrence. But what if our continual pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere has intensified winds to the point that 20% more birds die each migration than they used to?

What if our decision to stop eating these birds has led to a population explosion which now shows up in increased numbers washing up on our beaches?

What if there is something else going on - like radiation exposure at Fukushima has reduced some birds' immune systems to the point where they can't cope with the migratory flight.

Until these things are properly investigated, we can't know whether we have had any input into this or not.

Dismissing these events as 'natural' and therefore not investigating the causes does everyone a disservice.

Who knows what else might be going on?

The dead turtle we recently pictured has a break in its shell which looks like it is from a boat strike. Why couldn't it get out of the way? Maybe it has a belly full of plastic bags and couldn't submerge to avoid the strike. But if no-one investigates the stomach contents of dead turtles to find out why it died, you can't make that link and deal with the cause. The cause in this case being plastic bags which we all use to take groceries home.

For those who don't know, turtles, being otherwise reasonably sensible, have a serious weakness for jellyfish and they get very greedy. A floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish in the water and they will eat any they see. Plastic in stomachs is not confined to turtles either, seabirds also suffer from eating plastic and from getting it tangled around themselves.

Now plastic is not a 'natural' product. It is entirely our creation and therefore our responsibility. It has tremendous advantages to it as a product, and some disadvantages too. The major issue is that some forms do not biodegrade, but get chopped into smaller and smaller pieces and hang around as a kind of toxic soup. More plastic in the belly - less food.

Taking the blame for plastic then, is reasonably easy. Taking the blame for messing about with the climate and ecosystems when the interactions are complex is harder for anyone who doesn't understand how these systems work.

Unfortunately most people have been conditioned to think of the ocean and the air as an inexhaustible and infinite resource. This is not so. Even the mighty Sol (the sun) at the heart of our solar system will one day exhaust his fuel, contract, explode and die.

So to get back to our local situation and a more personal time scale. Yes, the dredging will continue to have an ecological impact long after the initial work is done. The scars on the sea floor and the fine sediment washing about will take a long time to heal and settle. The change in currents due to the Western Basin will change what can grow where. And the dugong may never come back.

The CO2 which in the form of coal we are shipping out of Gladstone Harbour will be burnt overseas and contribute to more intense storms. This gives the people of Gladstone some part of the responsibility for the tragedy in the Philippines. And some part of the responsibility for the more intense and more frequent bushfire season here. And some part of the responsibility for the algae and the dead fish and the dead birds.

I don't know how much is my responsibility. I only know that I need to do whatever is in my power to reduce the burden on an already overstretched ecosystem.

I accepted blame a long time ago, it's time for everyone else to do the same.