By Graham Matthews
On August 30, eight activists were arrested in Townsville while trying to prevent the transport of the dredge to be used in the Hinchinbrook Channel for the building of Keith Williams' 1500-room resort, canal estate and marina for around 250 boats.
The channel is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area and has recently been declared a dugong protected area.
The activists who were arrested were part of a peaceful blockade of dredging launched on August 26 by an alliance of local, state and national environment groups.
About 50 people had blocked the access of a truck attempting to relocate the dredge to the Townsville waterfront in preparation for its trip north to the development site at Cardwell when the arrests — for minor traffic offences — were made.
The protesters intend to use the blockade both as a means of slowing and frustrating dredging, and to highlight the plight of this environmentally sensitive area on the national stage.
The groups said: "Court action, lobbying, thousands of letters, protests and scientific evidence have failed to protect the World Heritage values of the Hinchinbrook Channel from inappropriate development. Sometimes there is nothing else we can do but take direct action to protect endangered species and prevent environmental destruction."
The protesters have written to and visited the workers and management at the marine excavation company preparing the dredge to ask for their cooperation in educating the public about dugongs and assure them that the protests targeting the dredge are not aimed at their business or jobs.
Dredging of the sea grass in the narrow Hinchinbrook Channel will increase the potential for boat traffic, particularly from Williams' Oyster Point development. "High boating levels will inevitably cause the destruction of the habitat of many endangered species, including the dugong", a statement from the conservation groups said.
Wilderness Society volunteer Steve Ryan told Green Left Weekly that the protectors have been holding a permanent vigil at Cardwell "to build up to a long blockade". He said that the number of protectors at the site was growing daily and that the blockade will remain in place for "as long as it takes — several months".
The form of protest action undertaken during that time will depend on the actions of the developer, Ryan said.
Protesters hope that the blockade will focus national attention on the issue in the way the Franklin River blockade in Tasmania in the early 1980s did. "We're asking people to take their holidays and join the blockade", they say.
"North Queensland is a great place to be this time of year. Please consider taking two weeks' holiday and spending one enjoying what we're trying to protect and the other being part of the many tasks that need to be done."
Buses to the blockade are leaving regularly from Brisbane, or you can fly to Townsville and be transferred from there. For more information, telephone the Wilderness Society on (02) 9552 2355, the Australian Conservation Foundation on (03) 9416 1455, or the Queensland Conservation Council on (07) 3221 0188.