ACTING Prime Minister Warren Truss has opened the door for further dredging operations to begin in Gladstone.
The move has alarmed local conservationists who fear the government doesn't understand the impact this will have on the coral reef.
"I think it is possible to dredge an area and dredge it safely," Mr Truss told The Observer.
Gladstone founder of My Marine Connection and PhD holder in environmental and climate change science Dr Kelli Anderson on Thursday spoke about concerns that a lack of research into the impact of dredging could prove costly if operations were approved.
"It depends on what modelling they've done. If there's going to be a plume that goes anywhere near the reef (Great Barrier Reef) then obviously I think it's a bad idea," Dr Anderson said.
"Australian coral species, there really hasn't been any studies done to look at how much light they receive (when dredging spoil affects them)... we need to look at light and sedimentation impacts of dredging."
Visiting Calliope on Wednesday, Mr Truss spoke of the need to balance environmental protection with economic opportunity.
"We obviously have a commitment to protecting the barrier reef and we're serious about it, but we also know that industrial development and exports of minerals and grain etc is very important for our country," he said.
When questioned about the recent approval for further dredging operations at Abbot Point, Mr Truss dismissed the notion that it was putting the reef at risk.
"In the case of Abbot Point, the dredging is over 40km from the nearest reef so that's a very, very big safety margin, so I'm confident that sort of work can be conducted in a way that doesn't in any way damage the reef."
Dr Anderson believed there was more than just an industrial perspective that needed to be considered when weighing up the dredging argument.
"Ecotourism, fisheries and all these other industries depend on the health of the reef," she said.
Mr Truss reiterated that despite Gladstone harbour's chequered history, future projects could be undertaken.
"I think it is possible to dredge the harbour without damaging the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
- Western Basin dredging project began in May 2011
- Will create shipping channels up to 13m in depth
- So far, about 21 million cubic metres have been removed dredging the Western Basin
- Maximum of 46 million cubic metres to be removed
*figures from westernbasinportdevelopment.com.au.