Oils ain't oils...

6 May 2011 0 Share

Environmental News
May 11, 2011

Uninterrupted Indian Ocean swells travel thousands of kilometres across the sea to meet the edge of the Continental shelf, abrupt shallows of our Western coastline, and the shores of iconic surfing town Margaret River. On its way it rolls over Australia's largest underwater island, the Naturaliste Plateau. Sitting in 5000 metres of water, the island is surrounded by kilometre high cliffs and canyons, riding up to a plateau at 2000 metres.

In May 2010, it was announced that 31 sites in the South West Marine region (stretching from Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Kalbarri in WA) would be made available for oil exploration and potential oil drilling. Eighty-five kilometres offshore from Margaret River and adjacent to the underwater island is the Mentelle Basin, one of the offshore acreage releases announced.

The announcement came in the wake of last years Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the largest spill in history. It flowed for three months, releasing over 776 million litres of crude oil into the ocean, and eventually hit 520 kilometres of coastline. Eleven people were killed and the damage caused by the oil is ongoing.

Our own South West Marine region is more biodiverse than the Great Barrier Reef. It is unique, and under threat. Amongst the 1.4 million square kilometres, less than one percent is currently protected. The Marine Protected Areas proposed will include Marine Parks and within those Marine Sanctuaries.

Although a Marine Park is managed, permits and licenses can be obtained for the exploration and extraction of oil, trawling and sea dumping. Marine Sanctuaries however are truly a protected area, dedicated to conserve marine life in its natural condition and provide a significant role in making sure our industries dependent on the marine environment are sustainable. You can swim, surf, snorkel, dive, go boating and operate nature based tourism businesses in a Marine Sanctuary. NGOs and community groups are working in collaboration with the Government to allocate Marine Sanctuary sites in unique and biodiverse locations in our Commonwealth waters, like the Naturaliste Plateau. Surfrider's national campaign follows clockwise around the country. The Government selection commences in South Australia and West Australia in February/March with draft plans, followed by the Northern Territory, Queensland and finally New South Wales to be finalised in 2011.

Does our priviledged lifestyle have to risk major environmental catastrophe?

Does our priviledged lifestyle have to risk major environmental catastrophe?

I'm not keen to give up my car, my stereo, my espresso machine or my chicken parma at my local on a Thursday night. Oil, or petroleum, is unavoidably part of our day-to-day, and therefore, so is acquiring it for our use. We have to find it first. Seismic testing is one method, sending vibrations through the earth and surrounding waters. Imagine your bogan neighbours are having a party listening to doof-doof for days, weeks, months… this disrupts the natural calls and communications between whales and dolphins, like those that migrate and feed around the Naturaliste Plateau.

When the rig moves in and extraction starts, the oil is in crude oil form. It's so thick and sticky that if spilt in the ocean it can suffocate mammals and clog gills, and can strip the water resistant coating from feathers, and furs of seals.

Filter feeders like clams, mussels and oysters quickly accumulate toxins and either die or pass it down the food chain, including to our very own dinner tables. Inhaling or ingesting crude oil compounds can interfere long-term with the ability for some marine animals to reproduce, grow, and breed. If a slick eventually makes it to shore, it sticks to sand on our beaches, our rocks, coastal plants and everything within the high-water mark. It is difficult, expensive and time consuming to clean.

The careful planning of Marine Sanctuaries in unique areas like the Naturalist Plateau and the areas offshore of Margaret River are the only way forward to ensure we keep these areas clean and safe. Other unique areas will be under threat throughout the year.

- Kristy Theissling, General Manager of Surfrider Foundation Australia

Take action now. See the Surfrider website for more information, or get in touch with your local branch in Margaret River and our 26 branches and beach representatives around the country or email Surfrider at info@surfrider.org.au.

To find out more about how to keep the atlantis of Australia's south-west check out Save Our Marine Life, a collaboration of environmental organisations with a common vision to conserve Australia's unique marine life through working with local communities, governments, industry stakeholders and Traditional Owners to secure a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative network of large no-take reserves in Australia's marine environment. Starting in the south-west where the Federal Government is currently considering areas for protection. SOML believes we need marine sanctuaries to save valuable species from extinction, to make our oceans icons for eco-tourism and to protect marine life for future generations.

Here's the latest news on action from the government, report courtesy of Save Our Marine Life. Save Our Marine Life, a national alliance of conservation groups, which includes Project AWARE Foundation, reacted with concern to the Federal Government's proposed plan for new marine parks in Australia's South West marine region.

Proposed South West Marine Parks Plan in Australia falls short Network of marine sanctuaries essential, key areas missing from proposed plan.

Critical feeding and breeding areas for unique marine life have been left out of proposed new sanctuaries in South West Australia released by the Australia Federal Government on May 4.

Without a comprehensive network of large marine sanctuaries, the proposed marine plan for Australia's South West marine region will be insufficient to safeguard the future health of the region's ocean life, fish stocks and coastal lifestyles, said the Save Our Marine Life alliance.

SOML welcomes inclusion of the amazing deep-water Naturaliste Plateau and Diamantina Fracture Zone in the proposals for full protection as marine sanctuaries. However, closer to shore, key iconic areas are not proposed for protection from oil spills and overfishing including the Abrolhos Islands, Perth Canyon, Geographe Bay, the Margaret River Capes area, Albany Canyons and the waters west of Kangaroo Island.

"Many of WA's and SA's most important hotspots for marine life remain under serious threats from oil drilling and trawling. A significant waste of taxpayer money would occur if the federal government does not base its final decision on the available scientific evidence," said Michelle Grady of the Pew Environment Group.

"Australia's leading marine scientists agree that a network of large marine sanctuaries is needed in the South West to safeguard marine life and help fish stocks to rebuild," said Dr Jill St John of The Wilderness Society.

Significant social and economic benefits would result from creating large marine sanctuaries and establishing the south west as a mecca for ecotourism and sustainable fishing.

Scientists and the Western Australia (WA) government agree that WA's valuable reef fish are in serious decline. The pink snapper and red snapper, Western Australian dhufish, baldchin groper and breaksea cod, now referred to as the 'Vulnerable 5', would benefit from marine sanctuaries. 

Public support for marine protection is high. Research conducted by Essential Research for the Save Our Marine Life alliance found that 75 per cent of West Australians believe that there are not enough of such measures in place.

For more information check out:

Save Our Marine Life

The Wilderness Society

Surfrider Foundation

Conservation Council of Western Australia

Australian Marine Conservation Society

How much is your beach worth risking? Will there be a point when we need to prioritise preserving the environment over exploiting its resources?

Tags: WA , coastal , protection (create Alert from these tags)

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