A biodiversity hotspot for large marine animals off Western Australia’s southern coast should be protected from mining, an independent review has found.
Bremer Bay canyon is a hotspot for animals such as killer whales, sharks, sperm whales, dolphins and giant squid, thought to be drawn to the area by a nutrient-rich hydrocarbons or deep water fossil fuels.
The review, carried out by the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review panel, has recommended the expansion of a marine national park zone to cover 70.93 per cent of the Bremer commonwealth marine reserve, including the Bremer Bay canyon.
The marine national park zone currently covers just over 6 per cent of the reserve, but an expansion would see the area covered increase by 3,000 square kilometres.
Call to protect WA killer whale hotspot from mining
The proposal, which calls for the exclusion of oil, gas and mineral exploration from the reserve, is being considered by the Federal Government as part of a review into the management of Australia’s marine parks.
Local eco-tourism operator and filmmaker Dave Riggs, who helped bring international attention to the environmental issues at Bremer Bay canyon, said the possibility of the area being locked off from industry would potentially increase tourism in the Great Southern.
Review supports marine reserves
More of Australia’s oceans should be placed under high protection, according to the long-awaited review of Commonwealth marine reserves commissioned by Tony Abbott in 2014.
“People have recognised this killer whale hotspot and they’re coming into Western Australia … and then they’re also looking around at what else is there to do in this amazing environment,” he said.
The co-chair of the review, Professor Chris Buxton, said although the area had potential for extraction, the proliferation of megafauna should be enough reason to ensure extraction would not go ahead.
“We’re not 100 per cent sure of it, but we also think that this is a natural seepage area, so the aggregation might actually be related to the fact that it’s got oil and gas seeping out of the area,” he said.
“So, [the oil and gas seepage is] a source of nutrients.”
A spokesman for Australia’s peak gas body, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), said while there had been industry interest in the area, they were unaware of any existing plans for exploration.
Fishing operations ‘also threaten reserve’
However, the Pews Charitable Trust (PCT) said the review had also recommended a reduction in the marine park’s inner sanctuary, ignoring the realities of the regions commercial fishing industry.
PCT director of oceans Michelle Gardy said recommendations to protect the park were incompatible with continued scallop dredging in the area.
She said a view offered in the review that scallop dredging was compatible with marine parks was similar to suggesting open cut mining would be work well in a land-based national park.
“Nobody would propose that that is the case, so we shouldn’t be proposing that that is the case in a marine park,” she said.
In a statement, federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said management plans for marine parks would be finalised in mid-2017.