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March 02nd 2017 print

Walter Starck

More Green and Muddy ‘Thinking’

Once again, as is so often the case, the resolute ignorance of the eco-activist set is on full display among opponents of a plan to expand Townsville's harbour and, with it, the local economy. As usual, neither science nor honesty figures in the campaign

greenie reef logoThe perennial environmental concern over dredging for ship channels has again erupted regarding a planned upgrade of the Townsville Harbour. And, as usual, the standard platoon of know-nothing suspects is at the fore of this latest effort to crimp prosperity in the name of a notional “threat” to the environment.

The inshore waters of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon have been a natural sediment trap for land runoff over the past 10,000-plus years, ever since the sea rose to near current levels at the end of the last glacial period. This is a windy coast and the inshore waters are characterised by high levels of natural turbidity from re-suspension of accumulated bottom sediments through wave action.  The nearshore reefs are comprised of a specialised suite of silt-resistant corals adapted to these conditions.

These inshore reefs are a fringe environment for corals and are subject to repeated devastation from storms, floods and extremes of temperature, both hot and cold. Their condition fluctuates widely and most of the time they are in a state of recovery from their most recent disaster. Long term monitoring of the closest reefs to the Townsville ship channel display this pattern, with no indication of any correlation to previous dredging.

The high level of coastal sediments has required dredging at every port to provide channels of sufficient depth for ships to enter as frequent strong winds and storms slowly shift sediment back into the channels, thus re-dredging every few decades is needed to maintain them.

Shipping access is essential to the economy of the region for imports of fuel, manufactured goods and various materials as well as the export of primary produce which is the economic backbone of the region.  Without dredging shipping would soon cease and, with no outlet for the mines and agriculture, the area would become an economic backwater littered with largely abandoned towns and suburbs. For those who may find it difficult to imagine this, a visit to Detroit is recommended to see what happens when the economic base of a wealthy city disappears.

Those opposing the dredging appear to eager to accept that result if it means the end of coal. As Greens candidate and dredging foe Wendy Tubman told the Townsville Bulletin, “You can’t have a massive expansion of the coal industry and protect the reef from climate change.”

A costly, well conducted environmental impact statement has been prepared for the proposed port expansion. Section 6, dealing with marine water quality, is available online. It comprises the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the likely effects of the planned dredging and finds no expectation for anything beyond low level temporary effects on the nearest reef areas. This is entirely consistent with the now considerable body of experience with previous dredging both in Townsville and at other ports in the region.

The concerns being expressed are not based on any sound evidence but are simply the same discredited hypothetical possibilities repeated for every proposed dredging — and repeatedly proven to be non-existent when the dredging was eventually done.  The only noticeable effect of the previous dredging in the Townsville channel has been the creation of one of the better places for recreational fishing in the general area. The eventual decision on this one is another no-brainer.

Lengthy delays and expensive surveys every time a shipping channel needs re-dredging, as if it were something that has never been done before, has become a ludicrous and expensive eco-charade.  It is also ultimately pointless as the option of abandoning the ports is not going to happen despite the most fervent demands of the eco-saviours.  It is probably not just coincidence that their ranks seem to comprise few persons from the productive sector of society.

However, those who don’t work for a living, but only vote for one, are abundantly represented in the eco-cadres. How many of these the productive sector can continue to both support as well as pander to is going to be interesting to observe. Or alternatively, is this perhaps just a precursor to every farmer having to conduct an impact assessment before ploughing a field?

Walter Starck is one of Australia’s most experienced marine biologists, much of whose professional career has been devoted to the study of  coral reef and fishery ecosystems

Comments [3]

  1. Lawrie Ayres says:

    If developing a farm or property involves removal of trees or even regrowth farmers already have to seek approval. Our draconian Native Vegetation rules courtesy of Bob Carr at the behest of John Howard removes many of the advantages once held due to freehold ownership. My argument is if the State or an individual or group want to preserve a tree or group of trees they should buy it and do as they wish. In the meantime let farmers who own the land determine what should be done on the land.

    When the layabouts and bludgers who claim to act on behalf of the environment pay for and prepare a study which is at odds with the proponent and prepare a counter project to maintain or improve employment then they should be allowed to speak. Otherwise they should be ignored.

    • wstarck says:

      And the truly ironic thing about the tree huggers with their professed love of nature is that for the overwhelming majority of them their own choice of habitat is the tiny urban portion of the continent where nature has been almost totally annihilated.

  2. en passant says:

    The classic example was the hysterical opposition to the dredging of Port Phillip Bay. I heard that at least two people lost their homes to pay their legal fees in preventing the dredging. Today, there is no damage to be found with the ecosystem fully recovered.

    This is an extract from Part-2 of the Carbonsense website section on Oil Spills concerning the world’s largest man made oil spill. ( http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/oil-spills-2.pdf)

    “Initially 240 million gallons of crude oil flowed into the Persian Gulf creating a huge oil slick that slowly moved down the coast with at least another 250 million gallons supplementing the initial spill over the next few months. In places the oil on the water was 10cm thick.

    The environmental impacts of the Gulf War were expected to be severe. … it was estimated that it could take decades for specific ecosystems to recover (Sadiq and McCain 1993).

    Despite all the predicted environmental hazards caused by the Gulf War, the acute environmental effects of the war never appeared to be as severe as scientists had initially forecast. It was eventually (and reluctantly) conceded that in many cases, the natural cleaning process would be the primary method of repair with the oil spills. ‘Natural processes’ includes waves and abrasion, the Sun’s UV rays, chemical reactions and microbial and algal feeding as factors helping the process along.

    Interestingly, in view of the current AGW alarms many of the conclusions were reached as a result of computer modelling. Once again, if you construct a model on biased and false assumptions then feed in the ‘right’ data and you can achieve whatever result you want!

    … The Gulf’s ecosystem was not spared during the war. Oil continued to be released into the Arabian Gulf from January 1991 to May 1992 (Sadiq and McCain 1993). This spill is more than twice as large as the previous world record (Zimmer, 1992). More than 800 miles (1,250km) of Kuwait and Saudi Arabian coastline was oiled and marine wildlife was devastated. Oiled birds regularly appeared on CNN supposedly presenting an accurate picture of the occurrences in the Gulf. Thousands of birds undoubtedly lost their lives (Sadiq and McCain 1993) but the picture painted by the News Services was of the worst affected areas and not of the average. Along with the migratory birds, the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) investigated the Gulf beaches and determined that some turtles had died and that most Karan Island green turtles had lesions (NCWCD Report, 1993). Furthermore, at least 80 ships were sunk during the Gulf War, many of which carried oil and munitions. These ships, along with those deliberately sunk during the Iraq-Iran War, will remain a chronic source of oil contamination in the Arabian Gulf for many years.

    As stated in the section on the chemistry of oil spills, the kerosene’s (light oils) had evaporated from the oil spill that at one point stretched all the way down the coast to the Strait of Hormuz (where it eddied up to a metre deep).
    A combination of ultraviolet rays, warm sea water (which is saltier in the Persian Gulf, and therefore contains more chemicals than the open sea) and 1st year school chemistry turned these balls of oil and tar into nuts of coke. Eventually the coke rocks became saturated and sank, carpeting the seafloor. Carbon being the stuff of life, and a basis for fertiliser nutrients, caused the seagrasses to explode in a huge bloom. Seagrass was the food of fish and within 5-years the ‘greatest man-made ecological disaster of all time’ had the Gulf teeming with more fish than had ever existed there before. By the end of the initial 5-years the beaches were again pristine and the fish and sea creatures were more abundant than ever.

    It is now twenty years since the spill. The sea grasses are declining as the oil spill sourced food is running out. Without replenishing the nutrients via another oil spill the fish food source will decline and the previous semi-desert on the sea floor will return as the nutrients from the few rivers entering the Gulf are insufficient to sustain a vibrant community of species. Is this somewhat contrary to the environmentalists’ story of all oil spills being an unmitigated catastrophe?
    When a ‘belief’ is shown … totally wrong there is no retribution or scorn pointed at the usual suspects who made these false alarms – they just move on to making their next alarmist prediction – and the one after that, all eagerly reported as ‘fact’ by the media under the heading ‘Experts claim ….’ or Experts predict …’. It is a rarity to see any retrospective analysis on how the claims and predictions worked out.

    As early as 1992 it was already obvious that to a great extent, everyone predicting an ecological disaster was wrong. … In short, every prediction of long-term detriments was proved wrong in less than 5-years
    The largest oil spill the world has seen exacted little permanent damage on coral ecosystems (considered by many environmental alarmists as being extremely fragile) and local fisheries, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at UNESCO. The study concluded that about half the oil evaporated, one-eighth of it was recovered and another quarter washed ashore, mostly in Saudi Arabia. The remainder fertilised the sea floor to the enormous benefit of the environment and its wildlife!”

    Despite this massive case study, the zombies of pseudo-science and the enemies of civilisation will continue opposing everything.