Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Burke talks offsets for sea grass

MINING companies could be made to invest in protection for depleting sea grass meadows under a proposal from the Federal Environment Minister.

Flagging the proposal at the Coast to Coast conference in Brisbane on Tuesday, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said mining companies could purchase offsets to protect sea grass meadows over using those offsets on research or management as is currently done.

Mr Burke called on the Queensland Government, who just slapped resource companies with a royalties increase in last week's budget, to introduce the additional sea grass offset option.

"If the State Government is not on board it does not matter how these companies want to do it, they can't go off and buy these blocks because they're under water," he said.

"Does it involve extra costs for the companies? Possibly not. They already have to pay for the offsets there but the payment is not going (towards) anything nearly as effective as what I am proposing."

While Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said he was happy to have a "conversation" with Mr Burke on the issue, he highlighted a number of hurdles.

Mr Powell said various mining companies were already exploring alternatives to dredging, including light-based monitoring systems in the Gladstone Harbour, to avoid sea grass damage.

He also highlighted the impact natural disasters had on sea grass populations.

Sean Hooben of the WWF agreed and pointed out that more than 2000 turtles and 200 dugongs, which were dependent on sea grass, had stranded themselves since the 2011 natural disasters.

"Right now the sea grass in Queensland, and the Great Barrier Reef particularly, is under severe pressure," he said. "The floods and the cyclones took out massive areas of sea grass meadows. The result has been record mortalities for turtles and dugongs.

"The federal initiative needs more detail to it. It is well and good to set aside certain areas and say they will be better protected but how exactly we do that is the challenge."

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