Adani’s Abbot Point #coal contamination of Caley Valley #wetlands reports @takvera

Caley Valley Wetland contaminated by coal from Abbot Point. Photo: Dean Sewell

Adani’s coal export terminal at Abbot Point was in the direct path of Category 4 Cyclone Debbie. There was reason to expect a large storm surge, but this did not occurr, but the destructive winds and torrential rain caused Adani to release a large amount of contaminated water into the adjacent wetlands and ocean.

On Sunday April 9 the Mackay Conservation Group published on their facebook page a before and after photo of the Abbot Point export coal terminal owned by Adani, and part of the Caley Valley wetlands adjacent to it. Here is the text of their post:

Satellite imagery released by the Qld Government shows serious harm has occurred the the Caley Valley wetlands which adjoin Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

The imagery shows the wetlands, which were in good condition in 2016, have been turned black by coal escaping from the port.

Mackay Conservation Group is dismayed by the spill in 5000 hectare wetlands that are home to over 40,000 shorebirds during the wet season. Over 200 species have been identified in the wetlands including a nationally important population of the vulnerable Australian Painted Snipe.

“These images show the lack of capacity Adani has to operate in a sensitive environment,” said Mackay Conservation Group coordinator, Peter McCallum.
“Adani wants to build a new coal terminal at the port that will involve extensive dredging in Great Barrier Reef waters, then pile the waste rock and mud alongside these wetlands. That will put the wetlands and the reef under even greater threat.”

“It’s obvious that Adani doesn’t know how to manage its existing facilities in a way that will protect the wetlands, or perhaps the company just doesn’t care.”

Mackay Conservation Group has written to Queensland Environment Minister, Steven Miles, to request more information regarding the volume of coal that has been spilled into the wetlands, how the government intends to rehabilitate them and whether any steps will be taken to prosecute those responsible for the environmental damage.

“Nobody should be able to get away with causing harm as terrible as this without facing severe penalties.”

“We have no confidence that Adani will be able to manage the environmental impacts of the port expansion or any other aspect of its massive coal mining operation.”

“This is further evidence of Adani’s poor environmental record. Australia can’t risk allowing them to set up business here.”

There was a conversation on twitter between Sam Regester of Getup and Mark Plackett about the two photos of the Abbot Point coal export terminal and risks of innundation or contamination of the local environment.

On Monday the Australian Marine Conservation Society called Adani’s facilities cleary inadequate and called into question the reckless nature of allowing Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project to proceed.

“Adani’s current facilities are clearly inadequate to withstand Queensland’s existing weather,” says AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaigner, Dr Lissa Schindler. “It is alarming that the Port’s storm-water facilities, which have been recently updated, could not handle this cyclone event – in a cyclone-prone region. It is reckless to allow Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine to go ahead and permit the Port of Abbot Point to double in size. This is a disaster-in-waiting, especially given that severe weather events like this will increase and amplify as climate change worsens.”

“The Caley Valley wetlands at Abbot Point are both nationally and internationally important as they provide breeding and roosting habitats for over 40,000 waterbirds, including 10 threatened species of waterbirds and migratory shorebirds,” says Dr Schindler. “This is an environmental disaster for the Wetlands and another severe blow for the Reef, which is already struggling from coral bleaching and poor water quality.”

“Adani also has a highly dangerous track record on both environmental destruction and human rights. India’s former Environment Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh has said that Mr Adani has not complied with regulations in his own country – and so cannot be expected to comply with regulations in another country.

”It’s sickening that – instead of taking urgent action to stop this mine and protect our wonderful Aussie jewel – our Prime Minister is overseas courting a dangerous foreign company to build the world’s biggest ever coal mine. Adani is a company that is well known to have caused environmental devastation overseas – and we cannot trust them with our Reef.”

The news media also picked up the story on monday and into Tuesday with reports by the ABC, the Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, The Huffington Post.

Whitsundays online reported that the State Government has begun an investigation of the release of polluted water into the Caley Valley wetlands.

By Tuesday Adani started getting into gear with some PR spin justifying their water release, and accusing the satellite photographs of being misleading on the contamination according to an ABC report.

“Aerial photographs showing the Caley Valley Wetlands as black are misleading and are not representative of the water quality in the wetland, nor is it supported by visual inspections since Cyclone Debbie, as evidenced by the photos which were taken on April 10,” an Adani spokesman said.

Bowen resident and Whitsunday councillor Michael Brunker (and former Mayor) called it all “fake news’ in an article published in the Townsville Bulletin, a part of Murdoch’s Newscorp empire with a distinct bias in supporting the Adani project. For clarity, Cr Brunker is a former coal miner and CFMEU representative and is considering contesting the LNP seat of Burdekin for the Labor party at the next state election.

Barnaby Joyce, our own very redneck Deputy Prime Minister stepped in to the debate taking up from Cr Brunker that the wetlands were human-made for shooters in the 1950s.

“Caley Valley wetlands, ladies and gentlemen, was built for duck shooters back in the 1950s. It’s a man-made wetland built for the duck shooters,” he said. “You’ve got to mitigate your risk, but you’ve got to understand there will be risks, and I don’t think that what you’ve got here with dust blowing over a man-made duck shooting pond is a major risk that means we should be stopping the Adani mine.” according to the Sunshine Coast Daily report.

He isn’t the only Coalition politician to be playing loose with the facts. Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan also repeated the claim on Wednesday, according to the Age, saying the area was “a man-made swamp that was created for duck shooting in the 1950s”. It appears the rabid rightwing conservative and climate denialist MP for Dawson, George Christensen, was the first to come out with this myth in 2015.

According to the ACF’s Geoff Cousins a group of duck hunters had unsuccessfully tried to dam the wetlands from the sea in the 1950s, which started a myth about the wetlands origins. Cousins highlighted that the Caley Valley wetlands are listed on the Federal Department of Environment and Energy’s Directory of Important Wetlands and had existed for “thousands of years”.

“The Acting Prime Minister, wherever he treads, seems to spark confusion wherever he goes,” Cousins said.

Indeed, the Commonweath wetlands database lists the geological and hydrological features of the Caley Valley, listing the significance as “The site provides an outstanding example of wetlands on a tropical prograding coast. Permanent water, a wide range of wetland habitats, very rich food resources and sheltered roosting and breeding sites cause the site to be exceptionally important for waterbirds. The importance of the site is such that it meets criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance adopted by the Ramsar Convention.”

Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane tried to use NASA description of water being portrayed as black by satelites as providing further evidence that the photo information supplied to the ABC by the Mackay Conservation Group was incorrect.

“It’s disgraceful that satellite imagery was misrepresented as coal particles in the water by the Mackay Conservation Group when in fact NASA’s website clearly says water absorbs light so it is usually black in the images. Similar photos taken in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie show black water in the imagery which included swimming pools and waterways nowhere near coal terminals.” says McFarlane

But the same argument can not be applied to helicopter and drone footage where the coal contamination can visibly be seen in the wetlands and particularly on the beaches below or the photographs featured at the top:

Associated with the above aerial footage, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Australian Marine Conservation Society released a media release on the impact of the contamination and environmental damage to a nationally significant wetland caused by Adani’s coal spill at Abbot Point.

A thick black sludge of coal has flowed from the Adani coal port into the wetland, smothering a large area of wetland.

The adjacent beach, which now appears to be scattered with lumps of coal, is a turtle nesting ground.

The wetland is home to threatened native species including the Australian Painted Snipe (Rostratula australis)

As well as smothering the wetland’s vegetation and sediments, coal dust can release toxic heavy metals into the water including mercury and selenium.

ACF President Geoff Cousins said:

“The wetland has turned coal black. It looks trashed. It’s a tragic and shocking picture of what the future of the Reef coast looks like if we don’t stop digging up coal,” Mr Cousins said.

“As acknowledged by India’s former environment minister, Adani has an appalling track record. There is nothing to suggest it will be any different here at the doorstep of our most precious natural wonder the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Adani companies have proven they can’t be trusted with the environment and the climate. The idea that we’d spend public money propping up their operations beggars belief.”

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director Imogen Zethoven said:

“The Caley Valley Wetlands today are a microcosm of what could happen to our Great Barrier Reef if the Carmichael mine and port go ahead,” Ms Zethoven said.

“If the Reef were a person, it would be crying out for help. In nearly 20 years it has suffered four severe coral bleaching events, 10 severe cyclones and four massive flood events washing huge volumes of pollution into its waters. It can’t take much more.

“The majority of Australians believe the state of our Reef is a national emergency and yet, rather than responding to the crisis, both the federal and Queensland governments are racing ahead to make the crisis worse. It defies belief,” Ms Zethoven said.

Dr Jon Brodie, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said:

“It is highly likely that there is environmental harm due to the loss of light for the plants and clogging of fish gills with fine coal dust.

“Given the complexities of governance – the regulatory authority and port owner is the Queensland government and the port operator is Adani – it is vitally important to have a transparent, independent and urgent investigation of this environmental harm.”

According to the Queensland Government wetlands website on the Caley Valley there are at least 5 rare or threatened species found in the Caley Valley wetlands.

In February a major spill of coal was discovered near the Hay Point export terminal. Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Great Barrier Reef Campaigner Cherry Muddle said in a statement that the report of coal spillages at Hay Point were disturbing.

“Last year scientists at James Cook University, Townsville found that corals exposed to coal dust died within two weeks”, she said. “It is unacceptable for coal spills to occur anywhere in our oceans – let alone a World Heritage Area. Also, our Reef is already under serious threat from global warming and pollution.

“Last summer above average sea surface temperatures killed 22% of corals 22% of corals in the Great Barrier Reef. We simply cannot allow polluting industries to further threaten our precious Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef provides 69,000 jobs and $6 billion to the Queensland economy. A decision to protect our Reef is a decision to protect our tourism industry, livelihood and future,” Ms Muddle said.

The study by Researchers at James Cook University, published in 2016, was called Simulated coal spill causes mortality and growth inhibition in tropical marine organisms. It detailed the impacts of marine coal contamination using one species each of coral, reef fish and seagrass. The researchers found that corals exposed to coal dust died within two weeks. According to the study abstract:

To identify the potential harm associated with chronic marine coal contamination, three taxa abundant in tropical marine ecosystems (the coral Acropora tenuis, the reef fish Acanthochromis polyacanthus and the seagrass Halodule uninervis) were exposed to five concentrations (0–275 mg coal l−1) of suspended coal dust (<63 μm) over 28 d. Results demonstrate that chronic coal exposure can cause considerable lethal effects on corals, and reductions in seagrass and fish growth rates. Coral survivorship and seagrass growth rates were inversely related to increasing coal concentrations (≥38 mg coal l−1) and effects increased between 14 and 28 d, whereas fish growth rates were similarly depressed at all coal concentrations tested.

Sadly, Abbot Point contamination of the Caley Valley Wetlands and nearby marine environment will provide a real life example for researchers into the impacts of coal contamination on ecosystems.

But there is another lesson here about the future of coal given we need to transition to a 100 per cent renewables based zero carbon economy both for Australia and globally. The latest campaign for bending the curve on climate change emissions, launched by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, called for no new coal mines as one of the essential financial points. All this while Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have both prostrated themselves in India before Indian coal baron Gautam Adani giving assurances the Carmichael coal mine will go ahead to the detriment of us all.

Update 3 May 2017:

A news report on the ABC reveals that at one monitoring point the contaminated liquids and sediment from Abbot Point were at 8 times the legal limit. Legal action against the company may proceed for the contamination.

The storify with more details from social media: Adani’s Abbot Point coal contamination of Caley Valley wetlands.


  • Berry, Kathryn L. E, Hoogenboom, Mia O., Flores, Florita, Negri, Andrew P., Simulated coal spill causes mortality and growth inhibition in tropical marine organisms (2016), Scientific Reports 6, 25894. (Full Study)
  • Abbot Point – Caley Valley DIWA nationally important wetland — facts and maps, WetlandInfo, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, viewed 13 April 2017, .
  • Lead photo: Dean Sewell

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  1. brian woods says

    i have lived near wet lands for over 45 years and our fathers etc 40 plus years ago created most of the wet lands for duck shooting ,on weekends they used bull dozers to push up bund walls to hold fresh water in the area and most but not all wetlands are man made /the photos don’t tell the true story because yesterday I went to wet lands to have a look and most of the area now flooded has grass etc going rotten under the water and that shows up dark on sat photos /no sign of coal only in the site sediment dams on the coal port lease area and these sediment dams are cleaned out regulary and qld govt has tested water quality and gave the okay water is under the test limits etc /I work in mines and gas industry etc yet I support most green environmental issues and don’t agree with lies being told about environmental issues just to make a good story /why don’t the people who write these storys come to the wet lands at abbot point and get permission to go and have a look first /I believe if too many lies are told about environmental issues then when serious issues are raised somewhere in future around qld people will not care