Saturday, April 20, 2024

Townsville man fined $145,000 for destruction of protected mangroves

A Townsville man has been ordered to pay close to $145,000 after he illegally cleared almost three football stadium-sized areas of internationally-recognised wetlands in the Cape Cleveland section of Bowling Green Bay National Park.

A Queensland Department of Environment, Science and Innovation (DESI) investigation found that between October 2019 and June 2020, the man cleared more than 19,000 square metres of previously untouched wetlands to build a 2km roadway between his property and Alligator Creek.

“This was despite receiving advice from the department that he could not interfere with the national park and Ramsar protected wetlands,” DESI said in a statement.

“In order to clear the track, the man destroyed thousands of protected mangrove trees and took soil from the national park to harden the road.”

They say he also used a combination of earth, and deposited waste including rocks, concrete, bricks and used pipes to build a boat ramp, and several causeways across Alligator Creek and nearby Crocodile Creek, which caused further harm to the national park and blocked the ordinary flow of tidal water to the Cleveland Bay Declared Fish Habitat Area.

In April 2020, Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service received a report about the illegal track and worked in partnership with Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) to investigate.

DESI and QBFP Officers carried out multiple inspections and interviews and confirmed the damage to the environmentally significant area, including evidence that heavy machinery had been used to clear large sections of mangroves.

Bowling Green Bay is a haven for its diverse and abundant fish and crustacean populations.

The wetlands in Bowling Green Bay National Park are one of only five sites in Queensland that are listed as an ecological area of international importance under the Ramsar Convention because of their diversity, extent of wetland types and the wildlife that the site supports.

The wetlands provide crucial habitat for threatened species such as green, loggerhead and flatback turtles, as well as migratory shorebirds. Many species depend on the site at critical stages of their life cycles.

Experts within DESI estimate it will take the delicate ecosystems damaged by the unlawful construction site years to recover.

Last month, the man pleaded guilty in Townsville Magistrates Court to all 11 offences, brought by DESI and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Yesterday, he was ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 plus just under $5,000 in costs. He was also ordered to pay $120,000 toward restoration of the affected area.

It is the first time that DESI has used the Environmental Protection Act 1994 to secure a public benefit order for an offender to pay for the remediation costs of damage caused to a protected area.

QPWS Senior Conservation Officer, Craig Dunk said the brazen actions of this person had caused wilful serious environmental harm to one of the world’s most important wetland ecosystems.

“The damage that has been wilfully done to these wetlands will take years to fully recover and could create flow-on affects to wider ecosystem including the Great Barrier Reef – it’s heartbreaking,” Mr Dunk said.

“[Yesterday’s] decision reaffirms our continued commitment to a zero tolerance of environmental harm within our nationally and internationally recognised protected areas.

“Those who have the privilege of living next to our beautiful, protected areas have a responsibility to carry out the necessary checks before doing any clearing that might impact the park.

“We hope this court outcome sends a strong message that we won’t hesitate to hold people accountable for damaging our precious environment.”

Fisheries Queensland Executive Director, Dallas D’Silva said the result represents years of incredible work by the DAF and DESI investigation and legal teams, and sends a vital message.

“Mangroves are critical to fish habitats and the environment more generally and there are severe consequences for destroying them,” Mr D’Silva said.

“This penalty with $20,000 in fines and a $120,000 restoration order makes the consequences clear – do not damage mangroves because it may cost you dearly.”

As a result of this investigation, the man was charged with:

  • Carrying out particular development without resource allocation authority;
  • Unlawfully performing works in a declared fish habitat;
  • Unlawfully removing, destroying or damaging a marine plant;
  • Carrying out assessable development, without the necessary development permits (works in a fish habitat) x 3;
  • Carrying out assessable development without the necessary development permits (tidal works);
  • Carrying out unauthorised works in a protected area;
  • Unlawfully taking a natural resource of a protected area;
  • Wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm.

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