Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Recovery of corals at Ashmore Reef

Written by Geoff Vivian Thursday, 22 December 2011 12:00
Science Network, Western Australia
RESEARCHERS at Ashmore Reef found shifts in coral diversity after recovery from bleaching events of 1998 and 2003.
Marine ecology consultant Dr Daniela Ceccarelli says, “The scientific consensus is that the causes of severe coral bleaching at Ashmore Reef and on other coral reefs in the region were caused by abnormally high sea surface temperatures associated with an El Nino event”.
Surveys commissioned by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities found the percent cover of hard corals tripled and the percent cover of soft corals doubled over a four-year period from 2005 to 2009.
Dr Ceccarelli, who participated in one of the surveys, attributes the rapid regeneration to two factors: the reef’s relative freedom from human activity, and the success of fast-growing coral species.
“The corals that became dominant over the recovery period were a combination of species that can colonise the reef and grow quickly and species that weren't as heavily affected in the first place, whereas species that were less abundant included slow-growing species that suffered high mortality from the bleaching.
“The fast-growing corals that became abundant in the shallow zone were from the genera Acropora and Pocillopora, and the slower-growing corals that did well in the deep reef zones were from the family Faviidae.”
She said the overall composition of the reef had changed.
“There didn't seem to be any biodiversity loss, and certainly no extinctions, just a shift in species dominance,” she said.
The researchers expect the success of branching corals to promote future biodiversity of other reef species.
“Habitat complexity is a measure of how convoluted the structure of the reef is - corals with branches provide greater habitat complexity than, say, encrusting coral species which grow flat against the substrate.”
Ashmore Reef is a nature reserve with an area of 583 square kilometres on Australia’s Northwest Shelf.
It is located 610km north of Broome and 110km south of Roti in Indonesia, and includes three small islands, sand cays, lagoons and a large flat reef.
Dr Ceccarelli said the last coral survey at Ashore Reef was conducted in 2009.
“Theoretically the monitoring should be repeated every two to three years, but it depends on how much funding is available,” she said.
Dr Ceccarelli is first author of the CSIRO article Ceccarelli et al Rapid increase in coral cover on an isolated coral reef, the Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve, north-western Australia Marine and Freshwater Research, 2011, 62, 1214–1220

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cyclone risk in lead-up to Christmas

CONOR BYRNE   |  December 18th, 2011  NT News

A CYCLONE has been predicted to skirt the NT coast before Christmas.
And today Darwin weather bureau forecasters will discuss increasing the cyclone risk outlook.
Brisbane stormchaser Ben Quinn takes data from an American weather model and extrapolates it eight days ahead on his website to show this cyclone forming on December 23.
Both Mr Quinn and weather bureau senior forecaster Ashley Patterson said forecasting tropical weather - especially cyclones - so far in advance could be inaccurate and that other models were not yet predicting a cyclone.
But Mr Patterson said it was not to be ruled out, and predicts a low pressure system forming in a monsoon trough off the coast."There is an increased chance of a cyclone forming," he said.
"It's still uncertain so far out, but looking at the current block of models. It's possible."
The Darwin weather bureau looks at about four or five weather models when predicting cyclones.
"They all go for a monsoon trough to build over the next three to six days, and they indicate a weak low (pressure system) in the trough," he said.
"But that could be anywhere between Timor and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
"The models haven't come into agreement so there's a lot of uncertainty.
"I can't say for sure there's going to be a cyclone; there will be a developing low off the coast later in the week."
Mr Quinn's website predicts that the cyclone would smash the Kimberley coast at about 6.30am on Christmas Eve.
His data, from the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is updated every six hours based on current data.
"You can't accurately put a category on it. I'm not even going to have a guess," Mr Quinn said.

Woodside May Delay Browse Project Investment Decision to 2013

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Australia’s second-largest oil and natural gas producer, may delay an investment decision on the planned Browse liquefied natural gas venture by at least six months to 2013.

The venture partners plan to seek approval from the Western Australian government to extend the decision deadline to the first half of 2013 from mid-2012, the Perth-based company said today in a statement.

Chief Executive Officer Peter Coleman, who took control of Woodside in May, aims to develop an estimated A$75 billion ($75 billion) in LNG projects with partners including Chevron Corp. The Browse project may cost about A$38 billion to build, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

“The variation would allow time to better evaluate the outcomes of front-end engineering and design work and the results of the tender processes for the development’s major contracts,” Woodside said.
Woodside shares fell 3 percent to A$30.35 at 10:45 a.m. in Sydney. They’ve dropped 24 percent in the past six months
The partners in Browse are Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc and BHP Billiton Ltd. The companies two years ago accepted a government deadline for developing the Browse project and in return were allowed to keep nine leases covering the Browse fields.
The partners are in talks on the final nature of the planned request for amendments to the Browse leases, Woodside said.

--Editors: Keith Gosman, Aaron Sheldrick
To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at

Marine chief cautious on sanctuaries

DANIEL MERCER, The West Australian
Updated December 19, 2011, 4:00 am
Sanctuary zones where all fishing is banned should be considered sparingly and only if there was overwhelming evidence of their need, according to WA's new marine parks adviser.
In his first interview as chairman of the Marine Parks and Reserves Authority, Tom Hatton said there was potential merit in "no-take" zones but they should not affect anglers unfairly.
Dr Hatton, a marine scientist and director at the CSIRO, indicated that he might also support controversial ideas put forward by recreational fishers opposed to sanctuary zones.
These include so-called wilderness fishing areas where recreational fishing was allowed but all other "extractive activities", such as commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling, were forbidden.
The comments are a significant departure from the position of Dr Hatton's predecessor, Eric Streitberg, who argued that sanctuary zones were essential if authorities were to protect valuable fish and marine species.
They also raised eyebrows among green groups as the Government thrashes out plans for a series of marine parks in State waters, including the much-touted Camden Sound proposal in the Kimberley.
"There's enough potential merit in (sanctuary zones) from place to place that they should be seriously considered," Dr Hatton said.
"But they need to be based on the best available scientific evidence and an understanding of potential impacts on recreational and commercial fishing and other users."
Environment Minister Bill Marmion said Dr Hatton would help create a world-class, comprehensive system of marine parks with two other MPRA board appointees.
Conservation Council of WA executive director Piers Verstegen said the appointments could weaken the resolve of the MPRA to establish marine parks with sanctuary zones.
He feared Premier Colin Barnett would not deliver on his significant commitments to marine protection if MPRA appointments were out of step with the latest science and community sentiment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Plenty of prawns for Christmas

ABC Rural Report
Rural Report for Northern WA: Wednesday December 14th 2011
By Matt Brann, Kununurra

The Department of Fisheries says prawns should be relatively cheap and plentiful this Christmas.
Around 3,500 tonnes of prawns were caught off WA's coast this year, which is well up on 2010.
Catches around Shark Bay were up around 25 per cent on last year, although heavy rain earlier in the year, has kept sizes down.
Fisheries research officer Errol Sporer says sales have been slow, which means there's a lot of product in the market place, which will mean good value for seafood lovers this Christmas.
"There should be plenty of prawns at a good price," he said.
"If you go to the supermarkets now, you're seeing prawns generally selling at around the $13 to $14 a kilo mark on special, so there should be quite a few prawns around at a good price and at good value, particularly around Christmas."
The department's Dr Mervi Kangas, says catch numbers were down off the Kimberley coast this year, mostly due to a lack of trawlers.
"There were not that many boats operating because of the economic climate," she said.
"Because of lower prawn prices it hasn't been economically viable to go to those fisheries and fish."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fishing fears stall marine parks

Daniel Mercer
The West Australian

Attempts to set up marine parks in WA's waters are getting bogged down amid fears about how they will affect fishers, the Barnett Government's marine parks advisor has warned.
Marine Parks and Reserves Authority chairman Eric Streitberg said negative perceptions were dominating the debate about marine parks at the expense of their "demonstrable" benefits.
Writing in the authority's annual report, the respected oil and gas industry veteran noted the difficulty in reaching a balance between conservation and "extractive use" interests, namely fishing.
He said the situation was invariably leading to "processes that are often very protracted".
"The debate over reserves is often dominated by the perceived negative impacts on extractive users, and what is often overlooked, or lost sight of in the debate, are the demonstrated major positive social and economic benefits of reserves," Mr Streitberg wrote.
Mr Streitberg's comments come as the Government continues to struggle in its efforts to establish a network of marine parks in State waters between the coast and three nautical miles offshore.
Despite touting the proposed Camden Sound marine park in the Kimberley as one of Australia's most important conservation projects in 2009, Premier Colin Barnett has failed deliver an outcome.
A number of other marine parks, including one off WA's South West coast, have stalled as differences between Environment Minister Bill Marmion and Fisheries and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore reach stalemate.
World Wildlife Fund WA director Paul Gamblin backed Mr Streitberg's concerns, saying the uncertainty shrouding the marine park debate in WA was leading to longer delays on proposals.
Mr Gamblin said people were often receptive to marine parks once they had been established but the delays were fuelling fears about them.
"The focus on some of the negatives can be exacerbated by delay," he said.
"People generally don't like uncertainty.
"The longer you stretch out these processes the more uncertain they can become and it doesn't foster the environment where you get the best outcomes."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New resort opening at Kuri Bay

If wilderness is the new luxury, then Kuri Bay in Australia’s Kimberley will be its epitome when it opens in April, 2012.  Located on the remotest shore of one of the most isolated regions on Earth, the new Wild Bush Luxury experience offers a new take on ‘luxury’, designed to be an immersion in the lore, legends and landscape of Australia’s last wilderness frontier.
In partnership with Paspaley Pearls, Wild Bush Luxury has – with minimal intervention – transformed Australia’s oldest pearl farm into an exclusive wilderness lodge. With just five rooms – which were previously reserved for special guests of the Paspaley family – Kuri Bay is not luxurious in the traditional sense: while the accommodation is simple, guests are assured of supremely comfortable beds, fine food and wine in line with Wild Bush Luxury’s other properties (which include Bamurru Plains, NT; Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, WA; Blue Mountains Private Safaris, NSW and Arkaba Station, SA).
Menus will highlight local delicacies, including fresh fish and pearl meat with wines sourced from the Paspaley family’s own vineyards in New South Wales.

Kuri Bay’s five-star exclusivity lies in the uniqueness of the experience and the opportunity to discover the secret stories of the Kimberley.

The property is only accessible by helicopter or sea plane – a spectacular, one hour and 45-minute air safari from Broome over the pristine, jewel-like islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago; the red rock cliffs of the Kimberley coast and the famous horizontal waterfalls, created by the massive tides. Before they even arrive at Kuri Bay, guests have a sense of the vastness of the Kimberley wilderness: an area the size of California with just 30,000 inhabitants. The nearest town to Kuri Bay lies 220 km away.
Days are filled with exploring the coastline with Wild Bush Luxury’s experienced guides, learning both the natural and human stories of the region: the whispered tale of two-metre tall Aboriginal people; the heroics and tragedy of the 1864 settlement where a number of European would-be farmers perished; and the zeal and fortitude of the early missionaries.

There is the story of Camden Sound, one of the world’s greatest Humpback whale calving grounds, which was recently designated a Marine Park under the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, and which lies on Kuri Bay’s doorstep: between June and October, whales are often seen in the bay. There are guided whale watching trips and boat trips to Montgomery Reef, Australia’s largest in-shore reef, where the huge tide recedes so fast it creates cascading waterfalls.

One of the most biologically significant regions of the world, the area’s wildlife is prolific, including birds, turtles and enormous crocodiles, and the fishing is world-class, from Barramundi in the creeks to reef and open water pelagics.

The Kimberley is also one of the oldest landscapes on the planet, little changed since Gondwana, and steeped in 40,000 years of Aboriginal legends and culture.

Along with some of the world’s most ancient Aboriginal cave art, there is also the story of the pearling heritage of the Kimberley, in which Kuri Bay and the Paspaley family play a key role. Founded in 1956, Kuri Bay was Australia’s first South Sea pearl farm and is named after Tokuichi Kuribayashi (1896–1982) of Nippo Pearls, the company that provided the technical expertise to the early farming joint venture.  Paspaley’s improved techniques enabled farming of the delicate Pinctada maxima oysters to be perfected, helping the industry to grow and prosper. In its heyday, Kuri Bay was one of the most successful and productive pearl farms in the world.

Kuri Bay will be managed and marketed by Wild Bush Luxury in a joint venture with Paspaley Pearls.
“Our new Kuri Bay venture exemplifies the Wild Bush Luxury philosophy of reconnecting guests to the landscape through inspirational experiences,” explained Charles Carlow, CEO of Wild Bush Luxury.

“We combine the best field guides in Australia and our own unique brand of professional, down-to-earth hospitality to immerse guests in the story of the land, and to deliver an experience unlike any other.”

Each of the five Verandah rooms are fan-cooled and housed in a traditional Broome-style building opening on to a deep verandah, with sweeping views over Kuri Bay, with three shared bathrooms.  With no telephone, television or the typical features of a hotel room to distract attention, guests’ focus turns to the environment.

“Kuri Bay’s remote location only serves to enhance the mystique of the Kimberley and lures guests who want to escape the mainstream tourism destinations and experience a unique wilderness location,” said Charles Carlow.

“Few visitors to the Kimberley leave without having been seduced by the purity of the environment, the breathtaking beauty of the rugged landscape set against the emerald sea, and the spirit of one of the most ancient lands on Earth.”

Kuri Bay will open for leisure business in April, 2012. Four-night packages include one night pre-trip at Pinctada Cable Beach Resort, Broome (owned by Marilynne Paspaley), airport transfer and return seaplane flight to Kuri Bay; three nights accommodation; all meals, beverages and guided excursions. They will start in Broome each Friday between April 1 and October 31 and cost 3,585.62€ per person.
Five-night packages, which extend the Kuri Bay stay to four nights, cost 4,183.35€ per person and begin in Broome on Monday each week.
For further information, visit or call 1300 790 561.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Woodside not bothered by Kimberley land ruling

Rania Spooner
December 7, 2011
WA Today

Woodside Petroleum is confident the $30 billion Browse gas project will move ahead as scheduled despite a court win for some traditional land owners over the proposed processing facility at James Price Point yesterday.
The Woodside-operated Browse (liquefied natural gas) development would process gas from fields 400 kilometres off the Kimberley coast to an onshore WA Government precinct 60 kilometres north of Broome.
The WA Supreme Court yesterday found compulsory acquisition notices issued by the West Australian government regarding the proposed gas hub were unlawful because they did not contain a description of the land required.

Premier Colin Barnett said the ruling did not make a lot of difference and the WA Government would reissue the notices with amendments.
Woodside, Australia's second largest gas producer, does not believe the ruling will hurt its development plans.
"The provision of the land for the Browse LNG Precinct is a matter for the State," a Woodside spokesman said in a statement today.
"Woodside does not believe that this result will impact on our work program and our activities are continuing on site as scheduled."
Mr Barnett said when the original notice of intent to acquire the land was issued, it covered an area of 7000 hectares, and that was to allow flexibility for where the final 3,500 ha would be.
"The court says you have to identify the exact 3,000 ha so the government will do that, we will reissue the notice of intent," he told reporters.
The Kimberley community has been divided and some have had an ongoing battle with Woodside over its plans to build the liquefied natural gas precinct.
Chief Justice Wayne Martin found yesterday any decisions made since the government-issued notices to take land at James Price Point and extinguish native title were also unlawful.
Chief Justice Martin found Neil Patrick McKenzie representing the Jabbir Jabbir people, and Phillip James Roe representing the Goolarabooloo people, had a sufficient interest in the validity to invoke the jurisdiction.
Mr Roe told reporters he was very happy with the result but the fight was not over.
"There's more to come and I'll be still going hard at it," he said outside court yesterday.
Mr Roe's lawyer Michael Orlov said there would be proceedings, probably next week, to declare the songline area an Aboriginal site under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
He said the area where the project was being developed was an Aboriginal site and should have been approved by the minister under the Heritage Act.
Mr Orlov said because the approval was not obtained, it could halt the development for around 12 months.
"The immediate practical effect of this judgment is the Browse project agreement, which depended on the validity of these notices, is invalid and has no effect," he said.
"The minister can commence again but it is a long process and we'll have to see what he does."
- with AAP

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Potential new dams in the North

The federal Opposition says it is preparing a list of potential new dam sites to take to the next federal election with major opportunities in the country's north.
The chair of its dams and water management taskforce, Andrew Robb, is in the Kimberley this week looking at proposals such as a dam on the Margaret River near Fitzroy Crossing.
Mr Robb says it has "magnificent potential".
He says previous water taskforces have failed to realise the true opportunities in northern Australia.
"For instance, the Northern Land and Water Taskforce, originally commissioned by the Howard Government, was hijacked, the membership was replaced and I think they were under instruction to reach an outcome," he said.
"To say that across the whole north there's not one opportunity for one dam anywhere, small, medium or large, just beggars belief but yet that was the conclusion."
The former chair of Labor's Northern Land and Water taskforce, Joe Ross, told the ABC in September that there is little scientific evidence to support further dams in northern Australia.
"Looking at the history and the evidence so far, such as the dam on the Ord River, it's still being paid for by taxpayers dollars," he said.
"I think the damming of any freshwater system in northern Australia has to be proven that's it's going to be viable economically, environmentally and that it doesn't impact on the cultural integrity of the region.
"If the coalition can come up with an answer that fills all of those three values that our Australian community holds, then let them put a dam on the Margaret River."

The West

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Disagreement over impact of Supreme Court decision on James Price Point traditional owner gas deal

By Ben Collins

ABC News online

Disagreement over impact of Supreme Court decision on James Price Point traditional owner gas deal
The West Australian Supreme Court has ruled notices of compulsory acquisition at James Price Point invalid. 
Lawyers representing James Price Point traditional owners opposed to gas processing are at odds with the 
State Government and Woodside on how this impacts the billion dollar deal with native title claimants.

Lawyer Andrew Chalk representing traditional owners Phillip Roe and Neil Mckenzie, says that the agreement between the Goolarabooloo/Jabirr Jabirr native title claimants, the State Government and Woodside that relinquishes any claims to native title at James Price Point in return for a benefits package worth over a billion dollars has been nullified by the Supreme Court decision.

"That agreement...under the native title act depended on those notices being valid. If the notices are invalid then the surrender of the native title...falls away." he said.
But Premier Barnett has dismissed the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the plans to develop the James Price Point gas processing precinct. He told the ABC that the State Government will simply reissue the notice of intent on the specific area that has now been identified. He points out that compulsory acquisition has never actually taken place.
"The land was not compulsorily acquired. We have acquired it through negotiation with the Aboriginal representatives, and that is according to the Native Title Act, and that stands." Mr Barnett said.

Woodside have released a statement saying that their current site investigation work will be able to continue, and that the agreement they struck with native title claimants allows for changes to be made to the compulsory acquisition notices which were the subject of the Supreme Court decision. The oil and gas company also emphasise that "This legal action by Roe and McKenzie is not supported by the registered native title claim group, who are party to the Native Title Agreement."

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) says that the Goolarabooloo/Jabirr Jabirr native title claimant group continue to support the agreement signed with the State Government and Woodside. In a statement the KLC say that they want "...the State Government to provide certainty that the proposed development of James Price Point will go ahead, following a Supreme Court decision that questions the development's progress."
The Court decided that moves to compulsorily acquire the land at James Price Point were invalid based on the requirements to specify precisely which areas of land were to be acquired. ABC Kimberley reported the discrepancies over the areas of land the State Government were saying they needed for the gas processing precinct and the area stated in the notices at the time compulsory acquisition was first initiated in September 2010.
The Premier confirmed to parliament later that month that he was pushing ahead with compulsory acquisition before the site work had been done to establish exactly which bit of land would be used for the gas precinct. Premier Barnett told parliament that over 7,000 hectares would be compulsorily acquired for what would ultimately be a 3,500 hectare precinct.

"This is to allow sufficient flexibility to identify final locations for each component of the Browse LNG Precinct and associated infrastructure taking into account Aboriginal cultural heritage concerns, as well as environmental and geotechnical considerations." the Premier said.

But today the Supreme Court ruled that the Land Administration Act does not allow the Government to make a broad compulsory acquisition, then choose the portions required and then return the remainder to its original title.
Andrew Chalk says the basic point from this decision is that "...if the government is going to forcefully take people's land they should be required to state precisely what it is that they're intending to take."

There may be further ramifications for the State Government which is said to have used this strategy to compulsorily acquire land in other cases. But the real impact for Kimberley gas processing at James Price Point will be felt if Mr Chalk's claim that the native title compensation deal has been voided, is borne out.
If this is the case then the Government may have to start the longwinded compulsory acquisition process again, and the Kimberley Land Council would have to reconvene native title claimants and take them through the painstaking process of coming to a new agreement with Woodside and the State Government.

This would be another stumbling block for the controversial plans for gas processing at James Price Point. The decision comes after Premier Barnett urged Woodside to hold their nerve amidst reports of increasing economic reasons not to proceed with the project. And there is ongoing uncertainty about environmental and heritage impacts. If the Environmental Protection Authority raises concerns in their report on James Price Point, due at the end of next month, then the gas precinct will be fighting for survival on multiple fronts.

No doubt lawyers from both sides will be preparing for the next court battle over whether this decision affects the billion dollar deal with native title claimants.
The Minister for Lands has 28 days in which to appeal the decision. The ABC has contacted the Minister for Lands, Brendon Grylls, for a response.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Secret men's business threatens $30 billion gas bonanza

Paddy Manning
December 5, 2011Sydney Morning Herald
Aboriginal Traditional Owners at James Price Point in the Kimberley while protesting the development of a gas hub on their land.
Aboriginal Traditional Owners at James Price Point in the Kimberley while protesting the proposed development of a gas hub on their land. Photo: Julia Rau
A PROPOSED $30 billion gas hub at James Price Point on Western Australia's Kimberley coast would disturb sites used for secret Aboriginal ''men's business'', lawyers say.
Documents seen by the Herald show a song cycle, a path sacred to the Goolarabooloo and other people of the Dampier Peninsula, which runs through the James Price Point site, 60 kilometres north of Broome. Woodside plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal there to process gas from its Browse field. Late last month Chalk and Fitzgerald, lawyers for a traditional custodian, Joseph Roe, wrote to Woodside and its joint venture partners in the Browse development - Chevron, Shell, BHP and BP - requesting that site clearing works be suspended as they may be in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act.
Andrew Chalk of Chalk and Fitzgerald expects shortly to commence legal proceedings to require the WA Registrar of Aboriginal Sites to include the song cycle on the sites register, as was determined in 1991.
Goolarabooloo traditional custodians Phillip Roe, Richard Hunter and Joseph Roe say the proposed gas hub poses a heritage risk.
Goolarabooloo traditional custodians Phillip Roe, Richard Hunter and Joseph Roe say the proposed gas hub poses a heritage risk. Photo: Damian Kelly
Mr Chalk said the registrar had ''not explained why the song cycle was not listed in accordance with the standard procedures nor why the office has not taken the usual approach to protecting the site that was notified in July this year, which is to treat it as a site until investigations are carried out to determine otherwise".
The Premier, Colin Barnett, has described James Price Point as an "unremarkable beach" but in 1989 a report by the WA Department of Aboriginal Sites identified James Price Point, also known as Walmadany, as an area of "major" heritage significance, the highest category, with archaeological integrity and dense material over extensive areas including hearths and bone remains.
In 1991 the WA Mining Warden rejected an application for a mining exploration licence by Terrex Resources, based on objections from the Goolarabooloo Aboriginal Corporation and recommendations of an all-male subgroup of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, established under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
Warden John Howard then heard evidence from official anthropologist Nicholas Green, who had been commissioned to document the song cycle, that the song cycle was of ''critical'' significance to the Aboriginal people of the West Kimberley because it was part of the initiation of young men into Aboriginal law.
"The essence of that law has been placed in the ground," said Mr Green. "Not only at the name places but at all points between those name places."
Mr Green said he had personal knowledge of the song cycle having "attended a ceremony a
number of years ago and witnessed for myself the actual songs". He had recorded a lot of information on audio tapes, which had been transcribed, but the evidence was not provided to the court because of its "extreme, sacred nature".
Woodside said yesterday it had obtained all necessary regulatory approvals and consents required to conduct land clearing and geotechnical studies at James Price Point.
''Woodside engaged senior traditional owners to complete detailed anthropological and archaeological surveys and received the appropriate cultural directions in order to conduct our work within this area,'' the company said. ''We have taken this approach to ensure that our work program does not interfere with any potential heritage sites. Traditional owners are providing ongoing assistance to our contractors by monitoring our approved site activities.''
But Mr Chalk said Woodside's ''approach to the song cycle was one of recklessness, given its significance and of which they have been on notice for many years. It is arguably also illegal.''
Mr Roe's challenge recalls the Hindmarsh Island controversy in South Australia in the mid-1990s, which led to a royal commission into allegations that Aboriginal opponents of a proposed bridge to the island had fabricated claims that the project would interfere with ''secret women's business''.
On Tuesday Chief Justice Wayne Martin in the WA Supreme Court will hand down judgment on a separate challenge by Mr Roe's brother Phillip, and Jabbir Jabbir man Neil McKenzie, to the validity of the WA government's notice of compulsory acquisition of the site at James Price Point.
The threat of compulsory acquisition was used by Mr Barnett, who supports the gas hub, to pressure traditional owners to surrender their native title rights over the James Price Point site and accept a $1.5 billion deal, championed by the Kimberley Land Council, allowing the Woodside project to go ahead.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Got you, you little rat - now let's save you

Nicky Phillips
December 3, 2011
Sydney Morning Herald
In good hands ... one of the golden-backed tree rats that the Australian Wildlife Conservancy wants to ensure have a long and secure future.
In good hands ... one of the golden-backed tree rats that the Australian Wildlife Conservancy wants to ensure have a long and secure future. Photo: Nick Moir
IT WAS once so common it was considered a pest, found running through the rooftops of many houses in Broome.
But in a narrow, rainforest-filled gorge, 350 kilometres from the West Australian pearling capital, ecologist Katherine Tuft has had no luck catching a golden-backed tree rat.
And then, as she inspects the fifth cage she placed out the night before, Dr Tuft finds what she is looking for.
''These guys used to be across much of northern Australia but they've really contracted back and now the north-west Kimberley is the only place they are,'' Dr Tuft, from the non-profit conservation group the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, said.
The unfortunate case of the native rodent is representative of the plight of more than half of northern Australia's small mammals, such as the northern quoll and golden bandicoot, whose ranges have contracted and whose populations have plummeted in the past 20 years. For these species, the north-west Kimberley is the last stand.
In an attempt to guard these creatures the Australian Wildlife Conservancy has taken over the management of a new property in the region, the Artesian Range, where a team of ecologists have found many rare species, including several the scientists had never seen.
The chief executive of the conservation group, Atticus Fleming, said the conservancy planned to manage the reserve by eliminating or minimising the threats that have pushed many of these animals to this narrow corner of northern Australia, such as feral animals and fire.
''We've come in here in the nick of time,'' he said.
A wildlife conservation professor, Chris Johnson, said most mammals below a body size of a kilogram were in steep decline in northern Australia.
''It looks like one big chunk of the biodiversity of those ecosystems is disappearing. And it is happening really fast,'' Professor Johnson, from the University of Tasmania, said.
Several key species had reached their tipping point, and if their populations fell any lower it was unlikely they would ever be able to recover.
''Once a species has got down to a very small population it has lost a lot of genetic variation [which] means it loses some fitness and the ability to adapt to threats or cope with disease,'' he said.
A small population was also vulnerable to local threats such as a drought or dramatic bushfire.
But if the north-west Kimberley remained a sanctuary for these key species, and they were able to flourish, they could be re-introduced to parts of their former range, Professor Johnson said.
The reporter travelled to the Artesian Range Sanctuary courtesy of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Last Refuge - The Artesian Range, North Kimberley

Nicky Phillips
Sydney Morning Herald
December 3, 2011

The Kimberley

Nicky Phillips and Nick Moir travelled to The Kimberley to look at the Artesian range.
Great extinctions have blighted Australia since European settlement but Nicky Phillips finds a small sanctuary still thriving in the isolated splendour of the Kimberley region.
'No one is allowed to sleep until we find it.'' Ecologist Dr James Smith is half joking but the force of his voice suggests he is determined, even a bit desperate.
For the past two weeks he has been scouring the tree canopies and sun-baked rock ledges of a remote region of the north-west Kimberley for the elusive rough-scaled python.
There have been fewer than 20 reported sightings of the python, whose habitat is confined to this small fringe of northern Australia, since it was first described in the 1980s.
Ecologist Sarah Legge in a spectacular part of the Artesian Range.
Running wild … Sarah Legge in the Artesian Range sanctuary, also above. Photo: Nick Moir
To Smith, the snake represents more than an ecologist's trump card; it is one of almost 50 reptiles, mammals and birds found nowhere else in the world but for this small pocket of Western Australia.
The north-west Kimberley is now the only area of mainland Australia where no mammal, and quite possibly no plant, has become extinct since white settlement.
The local inhabitants are not all that makes the region remarkable. For two decades, it has become a refuge for almost all northern Australia's small mammals that have been pushed out of native habitats across the top of the continent.
A team of Ecologists at their base camp in The Artesian Range in The Kimberly's in WA.
The Artesian Range. Photo: Nick Moir
This lost world, largely inaccessible to humans without a helicopter, has become a modern-day Noah's Ark on a landscape with the world's worst animal extinction rate.
While the region's remoteness means the populations of many species remain abundant, the broader Kimberley faces a variety of threats.
Fire, feral cats and wild herbivores will push up to eight kinds of mammals to extinction in the next 20 years if business as usual continues. And the populations of a dozen or more species will continue their steep decline.
A Quoll.
Feisty - but under threat ... a quoll encountered by the team surveying the region's rare species. Photo: Nick Moir
Feral cats are by far the biggest threat to the Kimberley's biodiversity. There are at least 100,000, eating a million-plus native animals each day. They have a more direct impact than wild herbivores such as donkeys. And the impact of fire is far greater because it allows cats to hunt down small species more easily. Pressure from tourism and mining could take its toll on the region, one of the continent's 15 biodiversity hotspots, if left uncontrolled.
Despite Canberra's decision to place vast tracts of the west Kimberley on the National Heritage List, the scale of the problem has grown too large for governments to manage alone. It is this predicament that convinced the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organisation, to take over the management of 150,000 hectares of wilderness in a narrow corridor of the north-west Kimberley.
Just under half the property is a mix of grassland savannahs and rolling basalt hills, bounded to the north by the mighty Charnley River.
A Giant cave Gecko.
A giant cave gecko. Photo: Nick Moir
The rest of the reserve comprises the Artesian Range, from which the sanctuary takes its name; a network of sandstone ranges and dramatic escarpments carved by deep, rainforest-filled gorges.
It is here that Dr Smith and his colleagues have been for the past two weeks surveying the native species.
hat is a pretty rat,'' laughs Dr Sarah Legge, the AWC's national conservation and science manager. She has just arrived by helicopter to join her team and is handed a Kimberley rock at, a small native rodent endemic to the region. ''I think she's preggers,'' Legge says, examining the animal's engorged teats.
Ecologist Dr Katherine Tuft weighs, measures and releases the rodent before the conversation turns to the other species the team have caught or spotted on the trip. So far they have seen many northern quolls (now regionally extinct in the Northern Territory), monjons (small rock wallabies), and a few scaly tailed possums, called wyuldas.
Around the campsite, the deep red dirt, rich with iron oxide, is pockmarked with bandicoot and rodent diggings. ''You come to a place like this and it's what the rest of northern Australia should be like,'' says Legge.
While eating dinner on their first night the team had even spotted an elusive golden-backed tree rat, whose habitat has shrunk from most of northern Australia to a tiny fringe around the Artesian Range. ''We were just eating papadams and James heard a noise,'' Tuft says. ''We looked up and it was a golden-backed tree rat.'' The rodents are so rare, Legge has not seen one. She hopes they'll catch one now she has arrived.
The contraction of the rat's range is symbolic of more than half of northern Australia's small mammals, whose populations over the last two decades have crashed.
In the iconic World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, 75 per cent of small mammals have vanished in the past 15 years, despite an annual conservation investment of $18 million.
To ensure they do not disappear from the Artesian Range, the AWC will conduct annual animal inventories. ''We need to know what is here, where it is and in what density,'' Legge says.
Each evening for the past two weeks the team have set close to 200 traps with mammal-style delicacies of peanut butter and oat balls laced with honey, fish oil and tuna to give them a distinct, pungent odour.
The Artesian Range is rugged and unruly. There are no boarded walkways or paths to follow. To inspect the traps early the next day (sunrise is at 4:30) the scientists clamber over fractured sandstone ridges, whose size and jagged edges would pose a death trap to most people, while pushing past spiky pandanas palms and clumps of waist-high spinifex. The fine hairs on the branches of the native hibiscus are also best avoided. ''Watch those, you'll spend the rest of the day pulling them out of your hands,'' Tuft warns.
The rich and abundant biodiversity of the Range has remained intact largely because of the terrain.
The region's characteristic fractured rock structures, which formed when sandstone laid down some 1.8 billion years ago folded and crumpled under the pressure of several periods of tectonic plate shifting, provide considerable shelter for native animals, especially from fire.
Every year about 40 per cent of the Kimberley, roughly the size of Victoria, is razed. While fire is natural here - when grass growth from the preceding wet season dries and cures it is easily ignited by lightening strikes - bushfire patterns have been adversely influenced by humans over the past few decades. This has created the situation in which intense, devastating fires burn in the hottest, driest part of the year.
While studies in North America show that fires claim few animal casualties, they strip the landscape of significant habitat, limiting the amount of food and shelter available for survivors.
A day before, Legge had sat in her office at another AWC property, Mornington Sanctuary in central Kimberley, pointing to a digital map of fires in the area this year. ''This one was started by a spark from a bulldozer or a grader,'' Legge says, indicating a large purple blotch that represents an intense, late-season fire, east of Mornington. ''And that one was a campfire that got away.''
The gradual movement of Aborigines from the country to cities, coupled with increases in tourists and farming contractors, led to the jump in the number of out-of-control fires.
In an attempt to minimise the negative impact on wildlife, the AWC has set up a fire management program, called EcoFire, with neighbouring land managers, including pastoralists and Aboriginal communities.
In early April and May, at the start of the dry season when there is still some moisture in the vegetation, the AWC prescribes burns across more than 5 million hectares. While it cannot control the acreage that burns - past rainfall is the key predictor of the proportion of an area that will ignite - the program can alter when the fires burn. ''Burn in August, September [at the end of the dry season] and it's like a holocaust,'' says the AWC chief executive, Atticus Fleming. Whereas prescribed burning in April leaves areas of vegetation unburnt, he says.
The objective is to break up the landscape into a patchwork of burnt and unburnt vegetation that stops the spread of late-season fires and protects areas of old growth vegetation, says Legge, who flew 30,000 kilometres in eight weeks, dropping 50,000 incendiaries over the EcoFire area, earlier this year. ''We call ourselves the bombardiers,'' Legge says. ''Make that the conservation bombardiers,'' Fleming adds.
o escape the relentless midday heat on the Artesian Range, the ecologists take refuge under a large tarp.
Cross-legged, they hover like excited children on Christmas morning waiting to inspect the calico bags that contain last night's catches.
''What have you got now, Sarah?'' asks Dr Alex James.
Legge cups a small marsupial in her hands. The team is not sure if it is a northern brown bandicoot or a much rarer golden bandicoot, whose range has contracted so severely the Artesian Range is likely the last place it exists. Legge consults the books. The animal she holds in her hand is smaller than an average-sized northern brown bandicoot, but it could be a juvenile. She peers inside the creature's pouch to find two sets of black beady eyes. ''It would be very significant to find a golden bandicoot,'' Legge says. After measuring the marsupial's head, tail and a foot, and inspecting its tail, she concludes it is a northern brown bandicoot, but she take some hairs for a DNA sample to confirm her assessment. ''These are just the type of small mammals cats love to eat,'' she says.
Legge suspects feral cats are the greatest threat to the Kimberley's biodiversity. She estimates there are at least 100,000 in central and northern Kimberley. When they opened the stomach of several cats they found they were eating up to 12 animals a night, which equates to about a million native animals being eaten daily by cats.
Determined and strategic predators, feral cats often hunt animals thought to be rare in the landscape. ''I remember opening up one cat and it had 10 dunnarts [small carnivorous marsupials] in it,'' she says. ''That's not an animal we catch very often.''
Not only are feral cats effective hunters, they fill a niche in the food chain. ''They can exert maximum pressure downwards but there is nothing controlling them,'' Legge says.
She has collaborated with several Australian universities, three national park agencies and the CSIRO on a cat-tracking project that has revealed surprising insights into feral behaviour.
So far they've attached GPS collars to 20 cats and recorded the animals' movements over several months. Late last year they found a collared tomcat, Bruce, travelled more than 14km to hunt along the edge of a fire scar. ''It was such a shock for us to see this cat travelling out of his home range, through other cats' territories, to pick off the refugees at the edge of this fire scar,'' Legge says.
Since Bruce, they've witnessed similar behaviour in two other feral cats. While the AWC ecologists have not seen any of these predators in the Artesian Range, Legge is confident they are there.
''They are found across all four corners of the continent, they're in rainforests, deserts.''
A collaborator on cat-tracking program, wildlife conservationist Professor Chris Johnson, believes the role feral cats play in the north closely mirrors the impact red foxes had on mammals in the arid and semi arid woodlands of central Australia from the 1870s to the 1950s. Nineteen species became extinct during that time, giving Australia the claim to the world's worst extinction rate, says Johnson, of the University of Tasmania.
The feral cat invasion has been, at least in part, facilitated by the spread of introduced herbivores such as cattle, donkeys and pigs.
With most of the Kimberley under pastoral lease, these animals have become ubiquitous across the landscape, including national parks. The grazing and trampling of these animals, both captive and feral, creates large patches of barren, functionless land across the tropical savannahs, destroying the habitat of many small animals in the process.
In an attempt to measure the impact of these introduced species, Legge led a four-year study to destock more than 40,000ha of Mornington Sanctuary. Three years after removing the beasts, the team, which included scientists from Charles Darwin University, the Australian National University and the Northern Territory government, found native animals almost doubled in abundance.
While Legge concedes that removing introduced herbivores from the land is not a wholesale solution, they should be moved off conservation land. ''That will be an interesting challenge for parks, because they don't have the staff on the ground to carry out the removal,'' Legge says.
The final assault on the Kimberley will be the arrival of cane toads. They have already reached Kununurra in the state's north east.
Evidence from other states shows Australia's most notorious pest has a severe impact on several species unfortunate enough to eat them, such as goannas, snakes, northern quolls and freshwater crocodiles.
For wildlife ecologist Professor Brendan Mackey, it is the interaction of all the threats to the Kimberley that have created the current situation.''If we don't do something now, it will be too late in 10 years,'' says Mackey, director of Griffith University's climate change response program.
To save the Kimberley and its unique wildlife, a group of scientists and conservationists formulated a priority list of programs and their cost to safeguard key animals.
An author of the study, ecology and mathematics professor Hugh Possingham, says a cost-benefit analysis shows the area's wildlife can be secured with an initial $95 million investment, followed by another $40 million each year.
He says it is not good enough to just fence off an important piece of land and call it a national park. ''A national park doesn't mean anything unless you manage it,'' says Possingham, director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at the University of Queensland.
As part of a new conservation strategy for the Kimberley, the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation has committed $63 million over the the next five years. It includes $21.5 million for a landscape-scale program of fire, feral animal and weed control.
Possingham doubts this will be enough to save many of the region's most vulnerable creatures. He says that if in 10 years several key species have vanished, as predicted, governments can blame no one but themselves. ''We told them what to do, and they chose not to act,'' he says.
For Fleming, the AWC's chief executive, the scale of the problem in the Kimberley is too great for governments to solve alone. ''We've got to do something different if we want to prevent extinctions and save the wildlife,'' he says.
The conservancy's model of placing people on the ground to manage conservation areas based on published science is going against the trend in the state's national parks, whose administrators have dramatically cut numbers on the ground.
''How can you effectively manage a national park if you don't have people living there, getting to know the place?'' Fleming asks.
''The wave of extinctions that have swept across northern Australia is crashing on the Kimberley's right now. If we don't act, it will be too late.''
Back at the Artesian Range campsite, the AWC ecologists are preparing for a final night of spotlighting.
''It's a good night for pythons,'' says Alex James, who has already spotted a couple of Olive pythons on the rocky ledge between her tent and the nearby creek.
Due perhaps to the victory of hope over experience, she was confident her team would find their rarer cousin, the elusive rough-scaled python. The tracking gods were not to be with with the group that night, but hope lives.
Nicky Phillips travelled to the Artesian Range courtesy of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Read more: