News & Media Opinion Pieces DEA writes to Minister Burke over mining threats to Reef

DEA writes to Minister Burke over mining threats to Reef

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) has taken the unusual step of writing to Minister Burke and publishing the letter (below) simultaneously.  DEA sees the issue as urgent and one that cannot be left to the usual niceties of communication.

The regulatory processes of the Queensland and federal governments for fossil fuel projects must be questioned once more in view of the request from the proponent to remove Gladstone harbour from the World Heritage area; presumably the proponent recognises that the port development is incompatible with continued World Heritage listing. The circumstantial evidence suggests that the dredging necessary for the fossil fuel port is disturbing toxic metals which cause fish deformity and deaths; a human health problem as well as an environmental one. Read the letter to the Minister below (and attached as pdf).

Thank you to DEA member Andrew Jeremijenko for his help with this issue.


6 January 2012

Mr. Tony Burke, MP
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
PO Box 6022
Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Mr. Burke,

We write to you as spokespersons for Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA).
We would like to express our concern at the Gladstone Port Corporation’s request to remove Gladstone Harbour from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Gladstone Harbour was classified as a World Heritage area because it met the criteria for world heritage listing, including this clause:

”contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”

Healthy biodiversity is vital for the ecological services that human health depends upon. Biodiversity underpins a resilient ecosystem, so it can continue to provide healthy water and food and other ecological services to maintain our wellbeing.
The Gladstone Port Corporation appears to want to continue its project at all costs and by removing it from World Heritage listing it will remove international scrutiny and standards designed to protect community, health and environmental values. This request puts the environment and sustainable industries such as fishing and our multi-billion dollar tourism industry at great risk.

We have noted the collapse of the fishing industry in Gladstone. It is likely that rapid industrial development in Gladstone may have contributed to the fish illness. Reports indicate a statistically significant difference in aluminium of the gills of diseased fish in comparison to their muscle and liver. Aluminium is a known marine toxin, and with aluminium refineries in and around Gladstone, we are not surprised by the presence of high levels of total aluminium in the sediment.  That sediment is being caught in the gills due to the high turbidity in the harbour since dredging has occurred. Further rapid industrialisation of this important marine environment may see other heavy metals entering the food chain and adversely impacting on long term human health. Therefore this project needs to be held to greater scrutiny, not be allowed to remove one existing layer of environmental accountability.

The massive scale of the Gladstone harbour project carries potential risks inherent in such rapid changing of environments that are important for sustaining human activity over a longer time scale, such as the tourist and fishing industries. We are also concerned about extractive industry projects that fail to deal sensitively with the social and economic impacts of large scale developments. We would welcome increased investment in researching the social, physical and mental health impacts of such developments.

The modification of the WHA boundary to coincide with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park shows a lack of understanding regarding coastal and harbour developments effects on the marine park. This proposal does not reflect science, which is requesting greater care with coastal development, pesticide use and runoffs from floods, cyclones and other natural events.  It also appears to contradict promises to ban oil and gas development in the Great Barrier Reef and now the Coral Sea as well. 

We will continue to call for further scientific investigations into this environmental collapse in the Gladstone harbour as we believe it has direct implications on a number of other harbour dredging projects.  I wish to advise you that we will be writing to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) raising our concerns and lodging a formal complaint. 

Hoping you will give this matter your urgent attention.
Yours sincerely,


Dr. David Shearman
Honorary Secretary
Doctors for the Environment Australia


Dr. David King
Queensland Executive Representative
Doctors for the Environment Australia