In the course of carrying out works on private land fronting the Maroochy River on the Sunshine Coast, a company deposited waste building material and fill over an area of low lying land on the property and an adjacent wetland area.
Following a complaint from the public, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP) commenced an investigation and identified that the filling resulted in the damage or destruction of marine plants over an area of more than 620 square metres of land.
Under the Fisheries Act 1994 (the Act), all marine plants are protected, with the Act prohibiting the destruction, damage or removal of marine plants without prior approval. This protection applies to all marine plants whether on private or public land.
As the company did not have any relevant approval for the destruction of the marine plants, the QBFP prosecuted the company for the unlawful damage of the marine plants in the Maroochydore Magistrates Court.
The Court imposed a fine on the company of more than $29,000. This penalty took into account both the ecological and cultural heritage damage caused by the unlawful damage of the marine plants.
In particular, in addition to the important role that marine plants provide in relation to fish habitat, the Court had regard to submissions that the clearing also caused damage to the rights of the traditional owners, being the Kabi Kabi, who are the recognised native title holders.
Works on land can be subject to a wide range of regulation and approval requirements. In addition to typical local government approvals, works may also be subject to a range of State government approvals. Landowners and persons carrying out works need to ensure that all necessary approvals are sought and obtained before carrying out works and substantial penalties apply for unlawful works.