The government is currently undertaking the strategic assessment in response to the World Heritage Committee’s recommendations made last year.
While the Senate inquiry did not recommend passing a Greens bill to implement the WHC’s recommendations in Commonwealth law, it has recommended a halt on new port developments.
Such projects, outside of existing major port areas, would include the proposed ports in the Fitzroy Delta on Balaclava Island and Port Alma in Central Queensland.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters, who introduced the original bill, said it was good to see government reaction, but it was “too little, too late”.
“The World Heritage Committee, which meets next week to decide the Great Barrier Reef’s fate, is telling us we shouldn’t have any new ports in pristine areas at all,” she said.
“Rather than permanently protecting these pristine areas, the Senate committee has only recommended a two-year pause on new ports, until a strategic assessment on the Great Barrier Reef is completed in 2015.”
Numerous stakeholders, including port authorities, the resources industry, environmentalists, scientists and the fishing and tourism industries, spoke to the committee.
“The committee acknowledges that there are a number of factors impacting on and contributing the current decline in the health of the Great Barrier Reef,” the report reads.
“However, the committee is not convinced by arguments that the contribution of ports and associated activities is minor and localised.”
The report also revealed the committee was persuaded by evidence that “sea dumping of dredge spoil should not occur in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area”.
It recommended a review of the government’s Sea Dumping Act and how it relates to the reef, measures to strengthen the Commonwealth’s existing environmental regime.
The committee also said it was “not convinced by evidence from the ports industry that ports in the Great Barrier Reef region have been well managed to date from an environmental perspective”.
“The committee particularly noted evidence given about Gladstone Harbour, and the considerable debate as to the causes of impacts on the health of the aquatic environment,” the report reads.