In-stream mining – using heavy machinery to dig up river beds and adjacent alluvial stream banks – must be outlawed in Queensland, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

On Cape York Peninsula, the Palaszczuk government is poised to approve three new in-stream mines that will directly damage the fragile ecology of the rivers, threaten the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef, and cultural values currently under assessment by the Commonwealth.

“Under current laws, it is perfectly legal to use excavators to dig up a river bed in search of small amounts of gold, tin or silver,” said ACF’s Northern Australia program officer Andrew Picone.

“The rivers of the Normanby Basin flood every wet season and all the disturbed material is washed downstream and into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, smothering sea grass meadows and nearby coral.

“Environment Minister Steven Miles’ recent unprecedented acquisition of the 56,000 hectare Springvale pastoral station to improve the quality of water that runs off to the reef could all be for nothing if two new mines are approved on the very same property.

“On the Laura River, a third proposed new mine threatens ancient cultural sites and is adjacent to the grounds of the famous Laura dance festival. Internationally significant rock art galleries and 40,000-year-old occupation sites are within metres of the proposed mine. 

“Already, the upper reaches of the Normanby River have been subject to years of mining for low levels of gold, tin and silver. One mine still operates on a neighbouring property.

“The cumulative impacts of vegetation clearing, erosion, agricultural run-off and archaic mining operations will take a massive toll on what is now a very sick reef, trying to recover from the worst coral bleaching event in history. 

“Downstream, in the national park, lagoons that are vital dry season refuges for freshwater species including barramundi, sawfish and innumerable wetland birds are filling up with sand and sediment. 

“Princess Charlotte Bay, one of the most important habitats for turtle and dugong within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, is directly downstream of the Normanby basin and under increasing pressure from land use impacts.

“ACF calls on the Palaszczuk government to outlaw instream mining – a massively damaging technique that should have ended 100 years ago,” Mr Picone said.

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