How to use a bikelock to save the Great Barrier Reef - protest halts Gladstone dredging

9 November 2011

Derec Davies used a bicycle U lock to attach himself to a dredger in Gladstone Harbour this morning. The direct action was taken to protect the Great Barrier Reef against the development of Gladstone harbour liquefied natural gas facilities on Curtis Island to export Coal Seam Gas. Massive Dredging of the Gladstone harbour is occurring which fisherman and environmentalists say is causing turbidity in the water and causing illness of fish effectively closing down the local fishing industry. Development is endangering the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef.

Related: In 2010 Conservationists criticised government over coal ship grounding on Great Barrier Reef near Gladstone | Capricorn Conservation Council: The LNG invasion of Curtis Island | ABC TV Four Corners: Great Barrier Grief | Getup! petition to Save the reef

Derec Davies, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, was whisked out to a dredger about 9.30am this morning by a fast inflatable boat. He unfurlled a banner on the dredge, which read "Save the reef, halt dredging" and chained himself. All dredging stopped when he locked onto equipment. The police were called and attended to cut him free. Dredging was stopped for over 2 hours.

Derec Davies was released from custody at 3:40pm today with three charges under the Transport Operations and Maritime Safety act. The charges carry a total maximum penalty of $74000 or one years imprisonment.

"The Great Barrier Reef is worth a lot more than $74 000, so I think that it was worthwhile," said Mr Davies. "We shouldn't have to take action like this, but our Environment ministers Vicky Darling and Tony Burke are letting us all down. Hopefully the judge will see that people need to have the right to protest, otherwise this destruction of the reef will go unchallenged." said Mr Davies.

Drew Hutton, a spokeperson for Friends of the Earth said that the purpose of the protest was to call for a halt to all dredging in the harbour until a genuine independent enquiry was held into the causes of the apparent ecosystem collapse in the harbour.

The ABC TV Four Corners current affairs Program on Monday night did an in depth report on port developments in Queensland and their impact on The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area. (Watch Great Barrier Grief)

In the 12 hours following the airing of the program some 19,000 people signed an online Getup! petition to Save the reef.

There are six major port developments already planned or underway along the Queensland coast to export coal and coal seam gas.

"ABC has reported that the chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority expressed ‘extreme concern’ to the Government about the dredging and its unacceptable impacts on marine life within the World Heritage area," said Senator Larissa Waters from the Greens.

“We now have a huge spike in marine animal deaths up and down the coast, a fish disease epidemic in Gladstone harbour and the fishing industry on its knees, after just 1.5 million of the 46 million cubic metres have been dredged. The turbidity conditions imposed by the federal Environment Minister for the dredging are being continually breached, and now we learn that three heavy metals – aluminium, copper and chromium – are exceeding the national safety guidelines. And still the dredging continues." Senators Waters said in a media release.

Mr Hutton said the disproportionate number of marine animal deaths and diseased fish in Gladstone harbour reflected an ecosystem under extreme stress and his organisation had no faith in the Queensland Government's preparedness to look seriously for the causes.

"This is an issue of concern to all Australians who believe the Great Barrier reef should not be sacrificed for fleeting economic development. The coal seam gas industry, once again, has demonstrated what a detrimental impact it is having on rural and regional Queensland." said Drew Hutton.

According to Drew Hutton in a report on Lock the Gate, neither the Queensland government nor the federal government were trusted by most people to get to the bottom of the problem because they had too strong a vested interest in seeing these projects go ahead.

"So far all we have seen from the Bligh government is flawed water quality monitoring, constant assertions that the problems of marine species’ deaths and fish disease have nothing to do with developments in the harbour and the desire to see developments proceed at breakneck speed."

"The Gladstone Port Corporation’s dredging program is one of the biggest in our history and we need to know if dredging up historic layers of industrial pollutants as well as the acid sulphate soils that are known to be in the area are linked with this catastrophe."

Drew Hutton has highlighted the links between the reckless pace of development in Coal Seam Gas wells, with the port expansion threatening major impacts to fisheries and tourism industries associated with the Great Barrier Reef.

"Coal seam gas is, in all likelihood, linked with the problems in Gladstone harbour but you can follow the trail of destruction and possible catastrophe back to the tens of thousands of hectares of bushland being cleared for gas pipelines and the long-term destruction of underground water." he said, "It is only people power that will force recalcitrant governments to act responsibly to bring the coal seam gas industry under control and to act to protect the Great Barrier Reef from high-impact development.."

Friends of the Earth is calling for a dredging halt, independent testing in Gladstone harbour, and the current enquiry announced by Federal and State Governments to widen its terms of reference to include all aspects of industrial development in the region.

Australia failed to notify the World Heritage Committee earlier this year regarding the port developments and their possible impact on the World Hertiage status of the Great Barrier Reef. They have called for a strategic assessment of all coastal assessments impacting on the reef. The reef may be in danger of losing its World Heritage status.

“Australians have to ask right now – are we prepared to lose one of our greatest national assets so we can turn the Great Barrier Reef into a coal and gas highway?” concluded Senator Waters.