2011 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release Targets More WA Biodiversity Hotspots

UPDATE: Coverage of this issue on ABC’s PM Program: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3188335.htm

The 2011 acreage release has extended the strangehold of oil and gas companies over WA’s waters, and brought future exploration and drilling closer to more of the West Coast’s many biodiversity hotspots.

A new lease has extended the oil industry into waters close to the Abrolhos Islands, and further reinforced drilling areas offshore from Ningaloo Reef, and brought oil drilling much closer to Shark Bay.  Last years release brought the prospect of drilling to the Margaret River region, sparking a year of protests in that community.

The map of new acreage releases is here.  It doesn’t show last years release offshore from Margaret River and Kangaroo Island.

More than a quarter of WA’s waters are now covered by oil lease, yet less than one percent remains protected.

These new leases create a conflict for the Government between their aggressive expansion of oil into sensitive areas, and their 2010 election commitment to protect WA’s marine life in a network of marine sanctuaries.

With just weeks to go till draft maps are release for public consultation in the South West, the release of the largest tranche of new oil leases in a decade is an insult to that process.

Much more needs to be done before the Government can argue they are responsibly balancing resource development with environmental protection in Australia’s biodiversity rich oceans.

Acreage is not an oil lease as such, but represents an ‘invitation’ from the Government for companies to bid to explore the area.   Once a company bids, it can be turned into an oil lease and there is a legal condition for the company to begin exploration activities, usually including drilling, or lose the lease.

The Squid is not aware of an application to turn acreage into a lease ever having been turned down on environmental grounds.  A lease of Ningaloo was argued against for years by conservation groups with the lease owner arguing they would probably never drill, now they are applying to drill at the same time as the Ningaloo world heritage nomination is proceeding, with a sizable  public backlash.

Big Blue Army Launched to Help Save Our Marine Life

In less than a month the Australian Government will start a three month public consultation period that will decide the future of marine protection across the 1.4m square kilometer South West region of Australia.

Currently less than 1% of this vast ocean is protected, despite it being home to one of the highest concentrations of unique marine life on earth, with up to 90% of life thought to be unique to the region.

To help make sure the Government delivers on its commitment to protect the marine life of the area, Save Our Marine Life has launched the Big Blue Army.

For too long debates about ocean protection have been hijacked by vested interest groups like the fishing lobby and the oil and gas industry leading to the shockingly low levels of protection afforded to our marine life.  Save Our Marine Life is determined to ensure that this time, our coral reefs, seagrass meadows, spectacular undersea mountains, whales, seals, dolphins, unique fish and other marine life – get the protection they deserve.

You can join The Big Blue Army at www.saveourmarinelife.org.au – joining will keep you in touch with the campaign over the next critical three months allowing you to get active to help secure this historic opportunity for ocean conservation, and also send a message to the Government of support for our marine life.

MEDIA RELEASE FROM SAVE OUR MARINE LIFE BELOW:

Media Release                                                                         5 April, 2011

We Want You: Join The Big Blue Army To Save Our Marine Life

The Federal Government is due to release maps of proposed new marine protected areas in the south west next month for three months of public consultation.

The Save Our Marine Life alliance has launched the Big Blue Army to provide the 75 per cent of West Australians who support much higher levels of protection for marine life a way to show their support.

West Australian research conducted by Essential Research in 2009 and 2010 found the majority of people are concerned about low levels of protection for marine life and wish to see a significant increase.

“The Big Blue Army will be sending its messages of support for sanctuaries to the Federal Environment Minister to demonstrate that the majority of people want to safeguard our marine life,” David Mackenzie from the Save Our Marine Life alliance said.

“Less than one per cent of the south west region is currently protected, despite there being a higher level of unique marine life found there than on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Research also found that 71 per cent of people in WA who fish at least once a year support least 30 per cent or more of Australia’s south west marine environment being protected.

 

Letter to the Geraldton Guardian

A letter I sent to the Geraldton Guardian today in response to some interesting comments from Recfishwest – you can see the article here.

The Recfishwest regional officer quoted in ‘Bans will Gut Industry’ (4th April, 2011) has grossly misrepresented plans for marine sanctuaries in his comments to the Guardian.

Firstly, marine sanctuaries are not no-go zones, they are protected from fishing and mining, but are open for research, diving, snorkeling and other such activities.  Marine life has been shown to dramatically increase in abundance in these areas.

Secondly, there is a vast scientific literature supporting the benefits of marine sanctuaries for protecting and conserving the full diversity of marine life.  They have also been shown to help in fisheries management, especially for demersal reef fish similar to dhufish or baldchin groper that are currently suffering overfishing under fisheries legislation.  In one New Zealand reserve sanctuary protection led to 14 times more large snapper. Just because he hasn’t read the science, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Finally, his claims that tourism will suffer are sheer scaremongering.  Recfishwest made the same claims when marine sanctuaries were established at Ningaloo and Rottnest, but now surveys show that more people are visiting, and more people are fishing than ever before.  Sanctuaries have also bought in more eco-tourists who spend an average of $6000 per trip, compared with $3500 for other tourists. Fishing tourism is more likely to suffer from continuing to ignoring the role sanctuaries have to play in helping provide healthy fish stocks for the future.

 

Post of the Month: What is a Marine Sanctuary, and do they work?

This month’s post of the month as decided by number of readers was once again: What is a Marine Sanctuary, and do they work?

It was closely followed, and overtaken on the first day of April, by a piece that still attracts considerable interest that I wrote a year ago in April 2010, Australia’s New Population Debate, An Environment Issue? Whilst the google traffic on marine sanctuaries is increasing with growing awareness about our marine environment, it seems issues of population remain high on people’s minds and hits on this blog piece remain high every month.

You can find out more about the campaign for marine sanctuaries in the South West, and take action online, at Save Our Marine Life.

You can discover the amazing marine life and underwater world of the South West in the online flip book Atlantis Found.

Note you can subscribe to the blog by email via the box at the top of the right hand column of this page or follow me on Twitter (@Happy_Squid).

Welcome to month four of Australia’s ‘year of the oceans’ when a network of new marine reserves right around the country will be established, starting with the unique south west region.

Happy April!