27 July 2015


WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society today said reefs in the path of the oil spill that has washed up on beaches in North Queensland must be checked for damage and ‘rogue’ ships must be banned.

“If the spill drifted across reefs at low tide then it’s almost certain there are now tar balls stuck to coral,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Richard Leck.

“It’s possible to remove these sticky tar balls from reefs but if nothing is done they can take years to degrade."

“We call on authorities, based on the modelling of tides and currents, to check those reefs in the path of the spill."

“The same toxic mess spoiling beaches may be poisoning precious reef environments,” he said.

Mr Leck said there are two likely scenarios for the spill and both are disturbing.

“Either the ship lost a large amount of oil and was unaware – or it was aware and chose not to report it."

“Either way the government needs to find the vessel and issue the operator with a significant fine."

“Furthermore the government should be far more proactive when it comes to managing shipping in the Great Barrier Reef."

“We need to ensure that any vessel with a history of poor sea-worthiness or seamanship is prohibited from entering the Reef’s waters."

“Banning these ‘rogue’ vessels would help avoid damaging incidents like oil spills."

“More oil spills, groundings and collisions are some of the risks of increased shipping,” he said.     

Despite measures already taken to reduce the risk of shipping incidents in the Great Barrier Reef Region accidents and near misses continue to occur.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation into the safety of navigation in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait found:

The survey of pilots showed that the number of grounding or collision risk events which they claimed to have experienced was about 10 times the number of reports of such events in records held by AMSA and the providers. The survey indicated that such high risk events occurred about once a month.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: 

Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571

  1. ATSB. (2012) Independent safety issue investigation into Queensland Coastal Pilotage. Report No. 282-MI-2010-011, October 2012. Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Canberra, Australia.