MEDIA STATEMENT FROM THE GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AUTHORITY
Impacts of the Shen Neng 1 grounding on the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been working closely with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Maritime Safety Queensland under the National Oil Spill Response Plan, since the Chinese registered bulk carrier, Shen Neng 1, ran aground on Douglas Shoals late Saturday.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Dr Russell Reichelt said the incident poses a significant threat to parts of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.
“We have observed damage to the Reef from the grounding incident itself, as evidenced by the plume of coral sediment that can be seen around the ship,” he said.
“As soon as it is safe we will conduct a full assessment to determine just how affected the environment around the site is but at the moment the damage is mostly contained to the seabed around the ship.
“There has been some oil that has escaped the vessel and we have used dispersants both yesterday and today to help breakdown the oil and help mitigate any potential impacts on the environment.
“Fortunately, there have been no reports of continuing oil loss and the quantity spilled to date does not pose a significant threat to marine life.
“It is critical now that there is a successful salvage with no further damage to the ship and no loss of oil or its cargo of coal.”
Dr Reichelt said although the Douglas Shoals are submerged reefs, the broad region in which the grounding has occurred include sensitive shallow reefs that are very high in biodiversity.
“Many of these reefs are still recovering from the impact of Cyclone Hamish in early 2009.
“Any further risk to the coral reefs in the region must be removed as quickly and as safely possible.
“In the area of the grounding there are deep shoals and reefs with diverse benthic communities including hard and soft corals, gorgonians and sea whips.”
Dr Reichelt said that planning is underway for all eventualities, including the risk that if more oil escapes, it could come ashore at sensitive sites along the coast such as Cape Clinton. This is a sensitive national park area near Shoalwater Bay, with internationally recognised wetlands, seagrass meadows, mangroves, a large green turtle and dugong population and migratory birds.
“It is still relatively early days in terms of assessing any environmental damage. We will know more about any potential damage to the Reef in coming days and weeks.”
The Environment Protection Minister the Peter Garrett announced today the formation of a Scientific Panel to assess any environmental damage and to inform options for the ship’s removal.
We can only hope that the best efforts are made to minimize any damage caused, and the oil and coal cargo are dealt with quickly.