Decision : CONF 205 V.106-112
Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
V.106 The Bureau recalled that at the twenty-fourth session of the World Heritage Bureau, the State Party was requested to submit a report on the grounding of a vessel in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on 9 November 2000. The State Party transmitted a report to the Centre via letter of 19 April 2001, which was sent to IUCN for review and comments.
V.107 The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) noted that the vessel caused severe but localised damage to the Sudbury Reef. The ship ploughed a path through the reef, destroying an area of approximately 1500m2. Rubble and blocks of reef rock pushed up on either side of the hull scar have created a ridge of 5-10m wide and 1m high. Subsequently, an area of 30,000m2 was affected by relatively low levels of contamination as a result of the dispersal of flakes of paint from the propeller work of the ship during an attempt to refloat it. GBRMPA staff and independent representatives of the Malaysian International Shipping Company (MISC) implemented a clean-up programme based on a mutually agreed upon methodology, whose primary goals were to remove the antifoulant from the marine environment to a level where it will not have long-term effects on the benthic communities (especially corals); and to partially stabilise the reef substrate at the primary impact site to facilitate the natural recovery of the area.
V.108 The clean-up effort began on 9 January 2001 and was completed on 27 March 2001. It was carried out in two phases. The operation took longer than expected to complete due to the large amount of TBT-containing anti-fouling paint buried deep in the sediment and delays due to bad weather. A long-term site-monitoring programme is under review by GBRMPA and interested parties.
V.109 The State Party informed IUCN that a review of actions to improve ship safety and pollution prevention in the Great Barrier Reef is being conducted by a steering committee comprising the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services, GBRMPA and the Queensland Department of Transport. Public consultation sessions started in February 2001. The steering committee is due to report to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services on 29 June 2001. GBRMPA has initiated a number of legislative changes to improve ship safety within the Great Barrier Reef as a result of this accident.
V.110 IUCN noted a report by the Brisbane Institute on the outbreaks of Crown of Thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. The tourism industry is said to be spending AUS$2 million a year in trying to keep their dive sites clear of the starfish, mainly by injecting them with wine bottle sterilising solution. There was also some evidence that major flood events have a correlation with the outbreaks, as well as the general increase in the sediment load of Queensland rivers flowing into the Great Barrier Reef. Nitrogen-polluted waters that flow into the Reef may be a significant factor in the growth of the phytoplankton that forms the food of the Crown of Thorns. No effective legislation is in place in Queensland to manage this agricultural pollution. In early 2001, Queensland Premier, Mr. Beattie, announced that his Government would take an active role in protecting the Reef, starting with a Crown of Thorns research and eradication programme. Reef researchers are keen for more work to be done on the links between river outflows, pollution levels and the Crown of Thorns.
V.111 The Delegate of Australia stated that his Government had committed to a range of reporting requirements on this World Heritage Area. The State Party had agreed to report on these issues to the twenty-sixth session of the Bureau in 2002 on priority action areas of the ACIUCN Focused Recommendations in the context of Periodic Reporting. In addition, the Delegate of Australia informed the Bureau that the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services would shortly receive a report from a high-level Steering Committee on actions to improve shipping safety and pollution strategies.
V.112 The Bureau commended the rapid action taken by the State Party for cleaning up impacts of the accident on the Sudbury Reef and its efforts to revise legislation, based on lessons learned from the clean-up operations, in order to improve the safety of shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In the light of this accident, the Bureau stressed the importance of compulsory pilotage of large vessels, especially those carrying hazardous materials, throughout the World Heritage area. The Bureau noted the need for effective response strategies to minimize environmental impacts in the case of marine accidents through consultations with key stakeholders, including traditional owners. The Bureau expressed concern over the possible impacts that remaining pieces of TBT could have on larval coral in the impacted area and urges the State Party to finalize the long-term site-monitoring programme that is currently under review. The Bureau invited the State Party to keep the Centre informed on progress on these issues in the context of the Periodic Reports by the State Party in 2002/2003.