Aquis Great Barrier Reef

An artist’s rendering of the proposed $8 billion Aquis development; developers say the Great Barrier Reef is in no danger. (Image: AAP)

The proposed Aquis casino resort in north Queensland does not require environmental assessment by the Australian government and poses no threat to the Great Barrier Reef. At least, that’s the view of developers, who said in a statement to the federal Department of the Environment that impact on the surrounding environment would be “insignificant”.

The local community of Yorkeys Knob – north of Cairns – is divided on the issue of a new casino in their midst, however, and environmental groups have argued that the huge resort could disturb a delicate floodplain, heightening the risk of flooding, and potentially leading to pollution of the world’s largest coral reef system.

Composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site, with a delicate ecosystem that is particularly susceptible to environmental pressures. A recent study suggests that since 1985, the reef has lost more than half its coral cover, due to climate change and coral bleaching.

$8 Billion Project

Local and environmental groups are concerned about the sheer scale of the $8 billion project, which Aquis promises will be “Australia’s only genuine, world-class, integrated resort.” If it gets the go-ahead, the 340-hectare complex would include two casinos, eight hotel towers with accommodation for up to 12,000 guests, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a giant artificial lake, with water supplied by the reef via a pipeline over a mile long.

The project is backed by Hong Kong businessman Tony Fung, who recently purchased the Reef Foundation Trust, the company that operates the Cairns Casino. Known as “the Bad Boy of the Stock Market,” Fung is eager to push through the necessary legislation quickly, making it clear that should he not get his way he will simply go elsewhere – to Japan, the Philippines or South Korea – and the area will lose out on the much-needed economic benefits.

However, despite the pressure on the government to act, Jon Nott – professor at the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Sciences at James Cook University – thinks that gaining planning permission is unlikely to be smooth sailing.

“Outdated Methodology”

“There is a reason nothing has been built in that area before,’’ Nott said. “The proposed development is located on the Barron River delta, which floods regularly and is also prone to storm surges from the ocean during tropical cyclones. They are proposing to raise the levels of the project, but it is based on outdated methodology.’’

Andrew Picone – of the Australian Conservation Foundation – also expressed his concerns.

“At a minimum, it should be considered a controlled action to protect the Great Barrier Reef,” he said. “We have a developer here who thinks he should be given all the approvals, but there is due process and the community should have its say.

“The environment there is already a floodplain, it is prone to flooding even without the creation of artificial lakes. With climate change and rising sea levels, massive developments like this in storm surge zones put the environment at risk and put lives at risk, too.”

The company has promised that the development will be “the man-made wonder of the world”; locals are hoping that won’t be at the expense of a natural one.