Rac­ing a worry for dugongs

Townsville Bulletin - - Our Defenders - by Nathan Paull nathan. paull@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

CON­SER­VA­TION­ISTS say a pop­u­lar boat race to be held in Cleve­land Bay in July would harm an al­ready vul­ner­a­ble dugong pop­u­la­tion.

The Off­shore Su­per­boat Cham­pi­onships, to be held the week be­fore the Townsville 400 V8 Su­per­car race, is in the crosshairs of the NQ Con­ser­va­tion group, who are con­cerned the ves­sel’s fast speeds are too great a risk in the known dugong habi­tat.

But su­per­boat of­fi­cials have hit back at the group, say­ing they have jumped through all the nec­es­sary legal and en­vi­ron­men­tal hoops to hold a safe and re­spon­si­ble event.

The con­ser­va­tion group’s pres­i­dent Gail Hamil­ton said dugongs were al­ready strug­gling enough in Cy­clone Yasi’s af­ter­math and did not need boats trav­el­ling at 230km/ h through their habi­tat.

‘‘ Ves­sels trav­el­ling at high speed do not have the ca­pac­ity to avoid a col­li­sion with marine fauna,’’ she said. ‘‘ We are par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about dugongs as t he ex­treme weather events this year have de­pleted sea­grass beds along the Queens­land coast, re­duc­ing the dugongs food source.’’

James Cook Univer­sity En­vi­ron­men­tal Science Pro­fes­sor He­len Marsh backed the group’s calls, say­ing there could be far more dugongs than ex­pected in the area as they search for food. ‘‘ The dugongs are likely to have lim­ited op­tions to find food south of Cape York,’’ she said.

Ms Hamil­ton said Cleve­land Bay was a des­ig­nated Dugong Pro­tec­tion Area.

But Off­shore Su­per­boat Cham­pi­onship Pres­i­dent Adam Gil­bert said yes­ter­day that his com­mit­tee had been run­ning a suc­cess­ful event for five years.

‘‘ The Off­shore Su­per­boat Cham­pi­onship ad­heres to a pol­icy and pro­ce­dure code and that does en­tail a sweep­ing lap prior to the com­mence­ment of the start ( to check for haz­ards),’’ he said.

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