Queensland Field Trip Reflections, by Peter Sainsbury

The weather was spectacular on our first morning together but the lowlights started early with a boat trip around Gladstone harbour with a local environmental activist and an ecologist. Lynne and I were last in Gladstone 30 years ago when it was a one horse fishing town; now it’s a multi-hotel mining metropolis with a one dugong harbour and it is no longer safe to eat the fish. The harbour foreshore has been almost completely consumed by coal loading facilities, the coal stockpiles are cheek by jowl with local housing, the harbour itself has been dredged and its seagrass beds decimated and not just one but three CSG export facilities are almost complete on Curtis Island, which is mostly a National Park. If you look at the Queensland Government’s website for the park (here) you’ll see a pretty picture with the caption ‘Curtis Island’s coastline is unspoilt and remote’ – believe me, the bits we saw weren’t unspoilt.

The environmental destruction story was similar at Hayes Point and Abbot Point. AEGN members will be aware of the decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to allow the dumping in the GBR of 3.5 million cubic metres of dredge from Abbot Point to facilitate the construction of the world’s largest coal export facility. In Townsville we met with a senior officer of GBRMPA and came away not at all reassured about the wisdom of that decision. Another lowlight!

While what we saw along the coast was very depressing, the people we met were completely uplifting. Esther and Amanda had arranged for us to meet about 30 people along the way from local and regional environmental groups. They all gave us a tremendous welcome and their organisation, commitment, energy, knowledge and persistence (sometimes in the face of considerable intimidation from industry and other locals) was truly inspiring – Google June Norman if you want to read a great story. They didn’t all speak with one voice: some were solely focused on protecting the reef, some wanted to combat climate change and were opposed to fossil fuels, some wanted to promote eco-friendly local businesses. But they all wanted to protect the environment and they mostly worked on the smell of a fishy story. All could make good use of a few philanthropic dollars. So if you feel like putting a few in their direction I’m sure Amanda or Esther will give you some contacts.

Finally I must thank Amanda and Esther for the fantastic organisation of the field trip and my fellow travelers for sharing their extensive knowledge and good humour. It was extremely encouraging to have Michael Northrop from the Rockefeller Brother Foundation with us to help reflect on what we saw. I’m absolutely confident that although what we saw was horrifying, we came away the richer for it and more determined to protect the Great Barrier Reef.