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Coastal mining and industry activities

According to the Commonwealth agency Environment Australia, when compared with much of the world, Australia's coasts and oceans are in relatively good condition, but our marine environments are under increasing pressure (Environment Australia 2000c). Many coastal locations are characterised by a diverse and cumulative range of uses and environmental impacts (RAC 1993a), most of which have already been addressed in previous sections. In fact, approximately 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based sources (AIMS 1995), and this includes both coastal mining and industry operations, which are the subject of this section. The main contrast with some of the other coastal impacts already described is that pollution and other impacts from coastal mining and industries stems primarily from point sources rather than non-point sources. Batley (1995) argued, for example, that significant contamination in coastal estuaries can be 'directly traceable' to coastal mining and industries (although other activities such as urban run-off also contribute). Several mining activities and industries have an impact on the Australian coastal environment, such as sand and gypsum mining, salt evaporation industries, beta-carotene industries, and other industrial facilities such as lead smelters and iron and steel works.

The key issue is that many mining and industry operations along the coastal zone (and inland) are essential to our survival and to our quality of life. Mawby (1974, p. 111) notes, for example, that the 'prosperity of any in our cities can be directly traced to mineral development'. Mining and industry activities (not just in the coastal zone) provide us with a wide range of important products, such as construction materials, glass and ceramics, metals, paint pigments, detergents, oils, sealants, paper, transformers, abrasives, rubbers, and leather tanning products, and provide a basis for food and medical products (Brookes 1996, Burzacott 1996, DME 2000). Like commercial fishing, economic priorities also become important factors in determining the relative significance of environmental impacts and how the coastal zone should be managed for these activities (Hore-Lacey & Webb 1996). For example, Australia is the world's largest provider of heavy metals and various other minerals (e.g. bauxite, alumina, diamonds, lead, ilmenite, rutile, and zircon) (Hore-Lacy & Webb 1996).

As is the case for commercial uses of Australian coastal waters, however, the problem is once again a lack of complete knowledge about our impacts on the coastal environment, including from coastal mining and industries (e.g. see RAC 1993). Burton et al. (1994) and Brookes (1996) noted that most coastal studies in Australia (including studies on contaminants from coastal mines and industries) are simply descriptive in terms of the boundaries and nature of pollution (sometimes with questionable and dated study designs), and do not endeavour to understand the complex interrelationships between different and often conflicting coastal uses and their adverse effects on broader coastal ecosystems. Much of the literature on coastal mining and industry also relates to their operations in all parts of Australia, not just within the coastal environment.

With these data limitations in mind, this section addresses the general coastal impacts of mining and industry, and provides a more detailed case study of sand mining in Queensland's coastal environment (Fraser Island), followed by a case study of an industrial/harbour based development in Western Australia.

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