Ports corporation outlines full position on fish health

Construction at the GLNG project site on Curtis Island.
Construction at the GLNG project site on Curtis Island. David Sparkes

AS Dr Matt Landos continues his attack on Gladstone Ports Corporation over its testing and reporting of fish health in the harbour, the port authority has gone on the front foot.

Dr Landos, an aquatic veterinarian commissioned be the Gladstone Fishing Research Fund to report on the state of the harbour, has listed his extensive criticisms of GPC's performance.

One of his key accusations was that GPC had "refused to release" several test results over the past two years, an accusation rejected by GPC.

As an example, Dr Landos said GPC had refused to release results showing high arsenic levels in the blood of turtles in the first half of 2011.

A spokesperson for GPC flatly rejected that claim.

"GPC has not refused release of turtle health and toxicology results/reports funded by GPC," the spokesperson said.

"A report entitled 'Health assessment of green sea turtles from Gladstone Harbour July to October 2011' undertaken by Eden et al is available from EHP's website."

The spokesperson said another report, by EnTox, had not been withheld by GPC.

"GPC has not refused to release results of ENTOX toxicology testing," he said. "GPC funded this study and after peer and GPC review, a report was finalised in August 2012.

The spokesperson acknowledged high arsenic levels had been found in green turtles.

"As far as GPC was concerned, similar to the report above, it was at EHP's (Department for Environment and Heritage Protection) discretion to release this report.

"This report highlighted that 'information on the sensitivity of green turtles to contaminants are limited… Comparisons to other vertebrates were required in most instances and therefore, there is an uncertainty involved when evaluating the effects that a particular concentration of contaminants may have on green turtles."

The spokesperson acknowledged high arsenic levels had been found in green turtles.

"Specifically in regard to arsenic, arsenic was tested and high levels were recorded in the blood of green turtles collected from Gladstone," he said.

"However, these levels were comparable to those reported for moribund green turtles.

"Arsenic levels in the liver and kidney of green turtles from Gladstone were also examined and found to be within the typical range for green turtles.

"It has been noted in a previous study of contaminants in Port Curtis (Jones et al 2005) that arsenic is present in at elevated levels in the local geology."

EHP chief scientist aquatic threatened species Dr Col Limpus had a different interpretation of the EnTox reports findings on arsenic compared with Dr Landos' interpretation.

Dr Limpus, who is regarded as the highest authority of turtle science in Queensland, said the EnTox report found "no major pollution issue has been identified from this study for turtles".

Dr Limpus reiterated his view that a spate of turtle deaths in Gladstone Harbour had been caused by malnutrition after the floods wiped out seagrass beds.

"When viewed in parallel with the health assessment report examining the same turtles, there is a clear case that the most significant issue regarding these turtles was malnutrition," Dr Limpus said.

He also said the toxicology tests showing high arsenic levels were conducted before the "intense" dredging began in the habour.

"Given that this toxicology sampling was done before most of the current intense dredging began within Port of Gladstone, it would be useful for the measurement of the contaminants in turtle tissue recorded in this study to be used as a back ground data-set for comparison against samples taken in the future."

Dr Landos also accused GPC of misleading the public about when the dredging began.

GPC has stood by the line that its Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project began in May 2011, but fishermen and environmentalists have slammed statement, saying dredging for the LNG projects began much earlier.

There is a clear case that the most significant issue regarding these turtles was malnutrition

"Dredging occurs in the Gladstone harbour every year," said the GPC spokesperson. "Small dredge projects for new berth pockets, channel widening etc occur at regular intervals as industry requires them.

"GPC facilitated early works dredging for QCLNG construction and aggregate dock at Curtis Island and GLNG's aggregate depot behind RG Tanna Coal Terminal wharf in  October-December 2010.

"This involved dredging only 418,426m3 of material which was deposited via Cutter Suction Dredge to the existing Fishermans Landing and RG Tanna reclaim areas.

"The sediment in the areas dredged was tested beforehand for metals/containments with the results from those tests showing sediments were low in contaminants and below  ANZECC guidelines."

"The Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project began May 20, 2011."

Topics:  fish health gladstone harbour gladstone ports corporation mining resources

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