While no State Party report was requested by the World Heritage Committee for this property, the recent approval of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Processing Plant on Curtis Island within the property on 22 October 2010 led the World Heritage Centre and IUCN to request that this issue be considered by the Committee at its 35th session due to the potential impacts of this proposal on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The World Heritage Centre requested additional information on this issue in a letter dated 17 November 2010. The State Party provided additional information on the approval of an LNG plant within the property and recent extreme weather events in letters dated 17 December 2010 and 21 February 2011. The State Party also provided additional information on the management and protection of the property and the issues noted above in a letter dated 8 April 2011.
a) Development of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Processing Plant on Curtis Island
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports in August 2009 concerning proposals for the development of an LNG processing plant on the south extremity of Curtis Island. The area is within the property, and was zoned as “rural”. In 2008, the local government re-zoned the lands in question as “Industry Precinct”. Curtis Island is located approximately 3-5km from major industrial port facilities of Gladstone (which lie outside, but immediately adjacent to the property). The information provided by the State Party acknowledges that these proposals, if they were to proceed, could have a significant impact on the property, and would therefore be subject to rigorous environmental assessments in line with the State Party’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) (EPBC). The State Party had previously expressed its intention to inform the World Heritage Committee of the results of this Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The Curtis Island LNG plant was approved by the federal government on 22 October 2010 after the completion of the EIA without the opportunity for the World Heritage Committee to first consider its results.
The State Party, in its letter of 17 December 2010, explains that the approval of the proposed development of LNG plant on Curtis Island, granted to Santos Limited and PETRONAS Australia Pty Limited, is subject to a number of conditions to mitigate the project’s likely environmental impacts. Besides strict environmental safeguard measures, these conditions also require Santos and PETRONAS to offset direct impacts from the LNG plant by securing the long-term conservation of an area of at least five times the size of the plant, preferably located within the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN notes that conserving an area that is already part of the property does not compensate for the potential negative impacts on the property. They note that the executive summary of the online Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) provided by the State Party appears to make contradictory statements. On the one hand, it concludes that the proposed LNG plant is not expected to have significant negative effects on the area’s heritage values, but on the other hand, it also concludes that there will be direct impacts on subtidal soft bottom communities, saltpan, saltmarsh, seagrass, mangrove and intertidal habitats, as well as potential direct and indirect impacts on whales, dolphins, turtles and dugong.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that there is a link between these values and the OUV of the property. They therefore consider that the LNG plant could represent a clear potential threat to the property’s OUV, due to its expected direct impacts on coastal and marine habitats and species, as well as the potential direct and indirect impacts from increased maritime traffic. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore strongly recommend that the development of the LNG plant be halted until the World Heritage Committee has had the opportunity to consider the EIA and inform the State Party on its conclusions. The complete EIA consists of almost 13,500 pages, and is currently being reviewed by IUCN.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall the Committee’s position that exploration and development of oil and gas should not take place within World Heritage properties, as recognised in leading industry commitments to not explore for, or develop, oil and gas resources in natural World Heritage properties.
b) Extreme climatic events
From late December 2010 to early February 2011, the state of Queensland experienced extreme weather, which resulted in large-scale flooding. In the supplementary information it provided on 21 February 2011, the State Party reported that flood water from Fitzroy River spread into the property to a distance of 65 km off-shore. The flood plume contains freshwater and contaminants, all of which can have detrimental effects on important marine habitats, which contribute to the property’s OUV. The State Party also reported that the category 5 tropical cyclone Yasi, which hit the coast of Queensland in February 2011, caused destruction of corals, as well as having impacted other coastal ecosystems in approximately thirteen percent of the property. Indirect impacts on green turtles and dugongs due to the loss of seagrass are also likely. The State Party is in the process of assessing the damage in the affected areas, but notes that the full extent of this damage will not be known for some time. The State Party expresses its commitment to developing and implementing strategies to improve the property’s resilience and its ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change, including the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Climate Change Action Plan. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that options be explored for the development and implementation of a restoration programme to support the recovery of damaged marine and coastal habitats, and note that the restoration of the habitats is likely to take a number of years.