Great Barrier Reef Marine park fights waves of bad press

A MARINE park tourism body is ramping up its international marketing of the Great Barrier Reef to keep the industry afloat after waves of bad press about the reef's state.

US President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio's very public concerns about the 2300km-long icon have given Col McKenzie some concerns himself.

The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators executive officer said the comments added to the list of overblown negative publicity, including supposed widespread damage from cyclones and dredging.

Mr McKenzie agreed parts of the reef, including the fringes in the Whitsunday area and around Gladstone, were damaged but said the vast majority of the reef was still in excellent condition.

He said many people did not realise the size of the reef, citing the grounding of Chinese oil tanker Shen Neng 1 on coral off the central Queensland coast as an example of incorrect perceptions.

Mr McKenzie said after the 2010 incident tourism operators as far north as Cairns were receiving cancellations from tourists who believed the grounding occurred near their planned destination.

He said there was no scientific evidence to back up speculation dredging was behind much of the reef's damage.

With the UNESCO World Heritage Committee set to give its draft decision on whether to list the reef as "in danger" next month, Greens Senator Larissa Waters is calling for the Abbot Point expansion near Bowen to be rejected.

"An 'in danger' listing would be a disaster for our tourism industry and international reputation," she said.

"The Abbot Point expansion to build the world's largest coal port in the reef should be dropped."

But Mr McKenzie supports the coal terminal's expansion in its current plan.

Dredge spoil will be dumped on unallocated land at the port rather than at sea or on the nearby Caley Valley Wetlands.

Mr McKenzie has described it as a win for the environment.

Queensland Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the government was committed to expanding the Abbot Point port "in a responsible and sustainable manner".

"Abbot Point is over 60km from Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays," he said.

"The science has consistently shown that dredging impacts will be localised and sediment will not travel anywhere near this area.

"Pending Commonwealth consideration, the Queensland Government is intending to undertake a full environmental impact statement."

A spokesperson for Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the amount of dredging proposed was significantly smaller than previous proposals at less than 3% of what was proposed under the former Labor Government.

"Onshore disposal has always been our preferred option and that's why we're ending the century-old practice of dumping capital dredge material in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park," the spokesperson said.

The Abbot Point proposal is open for public comment until May 1.


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