Wednesday, November 30, 2011

50+ species of hard coral identified on one reef walk at Cygnet Bay

Friday, November 18, 2011

North-west Marine Bioregional Plan submissions close 28 November

Submissions to the draft North-west Marine Bioregional Plan and proposed marine reserves network close 28 November.

The draft Marine Bioregional Plan and marine reserves network proposal for the North-west marine region were launched by the Federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, on  23 August 2011.

Copies of these documents and other supporting materials are available at

 Everyone with an interest in this process is encouraged to make a formal submission to the department before the conclusion of the 90 day consultation period on 28 November 2011.  Submissions can be made online at

If you would like to contact the team with responsibility for the North-west marine bioregional planning process, please email:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New conference facilities for Kimberley Coast

New conference facilities for Kimberley Coast

The Berkeley River, a multi-million dollar development located on the Kimberley Coast in Western Australia is scheduled to open next year.
The property will feature 20 suites with panoramic ocean views and a main lodge with state of the art conference facilities.  
Incentive activities including boat cruises, fishing and helicopter rides will also be available. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Browse up for review

Energy News Bulletin

Browse up for review

WOODSIDE Petroleum is confident of managing the risk to fisheries, marine fauna and flora under the greatest threat from development of the upstream component of its $A30 billion Browse LNG project.

Illustration of the Browse LNG upstream facilities
Map of the Browse LNG fields Image courtesy Woodside Petroleum
Browse LNG retention leases Image courtesy Woodside Petroleum

In its environmental impact statement, Woodside said the development of the Torosa, Brecknock and Calliance fields did not represent a significant threat to any listed or migratory species and management response measures were in place in the event an unplanned incident like a spill occurred.

Woodside said 50-90 wells would be drilled over the project life.

They will be connected to manifolds (four at Torosa, two at Calliance and one at Brecknock), which will be connected in turn through flowlines to their respective infield platforms.

The platforms will be connected to the central processing facility, which will comprise up to four platforms located on the continental shelf in 80-120m of water.

Gas and condensate will be processed at the facility before it is sent by about 310km of pipeline to the LNG plant at James Price Point.

The upstream facilities will tap the 13.3 trillion cubic feet of gas and 360 million barrels of condensate believed to be present in the three fields.

While most of the expected impacts are classed as low risk, Woodside noted
local fisheries faced a medium risk through exclusion zones around platforms and drill rigs, though the total area is expected to be small.

Woodside also carried out tests to determine the impact of light from the Torosa platform on marine turtles and concluded maximum light levels reaching Sandy Islet would appear to be no more than a small lit object, which Woodside said would not influence nesting behaviour of adult turtles.

However, the company said it had started a long-term monitoring program of turtles on the island to identify impacts from the development.

Noise produced during the construction of the project, vessel movements and operational activities were also assessed and while most were found to be of low risk to cetaceans, uncertainty over the noise from the subsea choke valves in the channel between the north and south reefs at Scott reef led Woodside to conclude it presented a medium risk to cetaceans until more data became available.

Woodside said besides carrying out measurements of the noise, it would also investigate insulation methods to reduce the noise produced by fluids through the chokes.

Other risks brought up by the report included the high possibility vessels and rigs might bring in invasive species – though Woodside said its comprehensive management plan made the likelihood low – and changes in water quality due to elevated suspended sediment from pipeline trenching works.

The study also examined the reasons behind the Browse joint venture’s decision to drop development alternatives.

Woodside said the Browse to Darwin option was dropped in 2007 due to the higher cost of running a long pipeline, while an option to build a liquefaction facility in the shallow water of the southern lagoon of Scott reef was deemed to be environmentally unacceptable.

Floating LNG was also dropped due to the need for multiple facilities to efficiently recover gas from the fields.

Woodside acknowledged the option to pipe gas to the Burrup peninsula, widely considered to be the most viable alternative to developing Browse LNG at James Price Point, did not pose unmanageable environmental issues though it raised the possibility that issues related to the cumulative impacts on the Burrup peninsula might present challenges for the option.

The EIS represents 17 years of research that has shed new light on Western Australia’s northern offshore ecosystems.

“Browse represents a major opportunity for Australia to meet the world’s growing demand for cleaner forms of energy,” Woodside Browse senior vice president Michael Hession said.

“It is likely to be a major part of Woodside’s growth as an energy supplier.

“We are also working closely with traditional owners to make sure that Kimberley indigenous people can realise the economic and social development opportunities from this project.”

Browse LNG is expected to generate up to $50 billion for the Australian economy and create up to 8000 jobs, 6000 onshore and 2000 offshore, during construction.

The 12 million tonnes per annum LNG project is expected to be approved next year, with first production in 2017

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Murdoch researchers slam gas hub report

Murdoch researchers slam gas hub report

Updated November 11, 2011 15:29:42

A key document examining the potential impact on marine mammals of a proposed liquefied natural gas precinct near Broome has drawn criticism from scientists.

A team from Murdoch University's Cetacean Research Unit says it has very little confidence in the report's scientific integrity and what it calls its "unfounded" conclusions.

The "Strategic Assessment Report", prepared by the Department of State Development, is designed to provide advice to the State and Federal governments on whether to give final approval to the gas hub which would span 3,530 hectares of land and sea at James Price Point, north of Broome.
The document's many findings include a prediction that activities associated with the LNG hub are unlikely to have an impact on dolphins in the area because the animals are likely to exhibit avoidance responses such as faster dive times and high-speed swimming.

The report also found that dugongs are not likely to be affected by a loss of seagrass due to dredging because they will relocate to adjacent areas to look for food.
On the subject of the estimated 13-thousand humpback whales that migrate through the area each year, the report found they successfully cross shipping corridors with little evidence of vessel strikes further south at Port Hedland and Dampier ports.

But, in a scathing submission, four scientists from Murdoch's Cetacean Research Unit have questioned many of the report's findings.

"There has been no targeted effort to identify and quantify the abundance of dolphin species ... this is a glaring omission in the Environmental Impact Assessment," the submission says.

"Thus the conclusion that the activities associated with the development of the precinct port area is unlikely to impact these species (humpback dolphin, snubfin dolphin) is unsubstantiated and based on field efforts that were aimed at quantifying humpback whale and dugong numbers only."
The unit's Amanda Hodgson told the ABC that a Murdoch University research team had recorded multiple groups of snubfin, Indo-Pacfic humpback and bottlenose dolphins just north and south of James Price Point during a boat-based survey in July last year.

"The coastal dolphins that we know occur along the Dampier Peninsula include humpback and snubfin dolphins and both of those species generally have small populations, small home ranges and they rely on very specific habitats ... so they can't just avoid the area if they're disturbed by this development," she said.

"The broad conclusions that they've come to are not necessarily supported by the scientific literature."
The report's assessment of the impact on dugongs has also been questioned by the Murdoch team which cited the case of Hervey Bay in Queensland where they say the widespread loss of seagrass from a cyclone resulted in the death and emigration of many dugongs.

On the subject of humpback whales, the scientists argue many of the findings in the report are "unreliable".

They have described the report's prediction that whales will successfully cross shipping corridors as "inappropriate" because it is based on a study of just three, satellite-tagged whales traversing the Port Hedland and Dampier Port areas in September, 2010.

"We certainly know that humpback whales get hit by boats and are disturbed by boats," Dr Hodgson said.
"There's plenty of literature to suggest that the impact of boat strikes is significant on humpback whales."
The Department of State Development has defended the report, saying it is based on the findings of work by reputable scientists.

The department says it has received more than 11,000 submissions since the report was released for public comment late last year and that draft responses have been prepared for about 1,000 issues raised in the submissions.

The State's Environmental Protection Authority is expected to make a recommendation to the WA Environment Minister, Bill Marmion, on whether the gas hub should go ahead, and under what conditions, in February.

The project also needs to be approved by the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.

Marine reserves not enough: report

FLIP PRIOR, The West Australian
November 10, 2011, 5:40 pm

The Federal Government's proposed marine reserves in WA's north-west do not go far enough to protect cetacean species including humpback whales and snub-nosed dolphins, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to threats from the growing oil and gas industry, a new report claims.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare report, compiled by marine scientists, described the region's waters extending from Kalbarri up to the WA-NT border as the "last great whale haven" in Australia, which include the world's largest humpback whale population.
The report recorded 32 cetacean species as living in or migrating to the area, but just four - the snubfin dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins and humpback whale - are recognised in the Federal Government's proposed bioregional plan.
With their highly refined acoustic senses, cetaceans are vulnerable to human-generated noise pollution from dredging, construction, explosions and seismic surveys and drilling, as well as fisheries, shipping and habitat degradation.
The Government's marine reserves offered little protection to the animals when "vast tracts" of ocean were being handed over to oil and gas companies for exploitation, the report said.
Areas of greatest risk identified by the report included the Exmouth Gulf, Ningaloo Reef, Barrow Island, Quondong Point and James Price Point, Browse Island, Scott Reef and Ashmore Reef.
Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard said less than one per cent of the north-west marine area was protected.
"We are really concerned that the Federal Government will cave into the demands of the oil and gas industry rather than protect marine life up here," he said.
"In their draft plan, they could have taken the opportunity to put in a reserve adjoining the proposed State Government North Kimberley marine park proposal - but they haven't."
There was only one highly protected area within the Kimberley Marine Reserve, placed specifically to protect the humpback whale calving grounds.
Kimberley whale expert Richard Costin said the report indicated that Commonwealth and State marine reserves systems showed a lack of coordination and did not actually provide any meaningful protection for cetaceans.
"The classic example, of course, is the proposed Camden Sound marine park, which has only a very small sanctuary area set aside for the humpback whales," he said.
"That hasn't continued on into Commonwealth waters to probably the most important area that runs across to Adele Island through the outer shoals and down to Eco Beach.
"All the boundaries for the proposed marine parks have done is provide certainty for access to the oil and gas industry."
IFAW campaigns officer Matthew Collis said the north-west waters were globally environmentally significant with incredible diversity of whales and dolphins and needed stronger protection and more research to be carried out.
"Of the proposed reserves, only three are highly protected and two are far offshore," Mr Collis said. "Even that highly protected area (in the Kimberley) doesn't cover all the areas in which the humpback whales breed and calve."
Environment Minister Bill Marmion said State Government was committed to expanding the marine parks system in WA, including the four proposed in Camden Sound, Eighty Mile Beach, Roebuck Bay and North Kimberley.
He said the State and Commonwealth Governments had agreed to work collaboratively in planning processes and provide complementary conservation measures across jurisdictional boundaries wherever possible.
However, there was no overlap between marine park and reserve proposals in Commonwealth waters, and those in State waters, he said

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

IFAW Releases new Cetacean Report

(Sydney) - Australia’s last great whale haven, the North West marine region, is under threat from unconstrained development by the oil and gas industry, and the Australian Government’s proposed Bioregional Plan offers little protection, according to a new report released today by IFAW (the International Fund for Animal

The report, written and reviewed by some of Australia’s leading marine scientists, reveals that this relatively untouched area has an incredible diversity of whales and dolphins. It also identifies several important areas for whales and dolphins that are not protected under the government’s draft plan.  The report underscores the need for more protected areas and further research about the animals that live there.

“At the same time as the government has opened its token map of reserves for public comment, it is handing out vast tracts of ocean to oil and gas companies,” said Matt Collis, IFAW Oceania Campaigner.
“The rampant oil and gas development in the region has brought significant threats to whales and dolphins, including endangered species.  It is noisy, toxic, and dangerous and when something goes wrong it can be catastrophic, as evidenced by the Montara oil spill.

“With the future of Australia’s last great whale haven in their hands, the government and industry have an immense responsibility to provide more stringent protection measures. Before any new leases are issued we are calling for more protected areas, more transparent research and stronger policies addressing the industry threats such as increased shipping, pollution and noise,” Mr Collis said.

Some 32 different species of whales and dolphins live in or migrate through the area, including the recently discovered Australian snubfin dolphin and the world’s largest, yet still recovering, population of humpback whales. The government’s draft plan effectively ignores 28 species by only taking into consideration four species and even the level of protection offered to these four is inadequate.

“All the indications are that this is an incredibly special region.  To jeopardise the area before we fully understand it is like throwing away a gift before unwrapping it,” said Mr Collis.
Support IFAW’s call for greater protection at, find us on
• A summary of the report is available here and a full version can be found here.
• IFAW is part of an alliance of conservation organisations pushing for greater protection for marine areas -

For media-related inquiries, contact:
Imogen Scott (IFAW Oceania)
Tel: + 0402 183 113

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kimberley coast yields natural treasure trove

Michelle Ridley, The West Australian.

An octopus that can lose an arm at will, a coral that turns purple when it is stressed and another coral that produces mucus to clean dirt from itself are just some of the animals uncovered by marine scientists on a trip to the Kimberley.
The three-week field trip, led by the WA Museum, involved 14 researchers walking on the reef and diving to survey marine life.
The team included experts in algae, seagrasses, corals, sponges, polychaetes (worms), echinoderms such as starfish and sea urchins, crustaceans, molluscs and fish.
WA Museum cruise leader and dive supervisor Clay Bryce said the researchers discovered a new species of soft coral, a juvenile of a new species of fish they had found on an earlier field trip and a new genus of algae.
They also discovered a new species of seaweed, nicknamed Rasta weed because of its similarity to Rastafarian dreadlocks.
Mr Bryce said one of the most interesting animals encountered on the trip was the octopus Ameloctopus litoralis, which has a head about 2cm long and arms about 14cm long.
The octopus does not have an ink sac, but can drop its arms to escape if attacked.
The 220km survey of Kimberley waters last month was the first of four field trips in a five-year study of the region funded by Woodside Petroleum.
"It's the biggest biodiversity project running in Australia at the moment," Mr Bryce said. "We have 14 people on the reef or diving at any one time.
"Each person dives for an hour or walks on the reef for an hour and then we move to the next site."
The project involves researchers from the WA Museum, the Australian Museum, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the Queensland Museum, Museum Victoria, the WA Herbarium, Curtin University and the CSIRO.
On the most recent field trip, researchers filmed the marine habitat, analysed the water quality and collected DNA in addition to the survey of underwater life.
Mr Bryce said the team collected about 1500 specimens and more than 1000 DNA samples on the trip.
"It's a significant amount of biological material to be researched and that's just this year," he said. "In the next three years we'll probably do about the same."
Mr Bryce said there was a huge amount to discover, with 2500 islands off the Kimberley coast.
"This is really one of Australia's last frontiers, not only because of its remoteness, but also biologically speaking," he said.
But the isolation of the Kimberley coast, coupled with low visibility, strong tides and the possibility of stonefish, crocodiles and sharks, can make it a dangerous place to work if precautions are not taken.
"We manage our diving and our reef walks very carefully, it's remote and a difficult place to work," Mr Bryce said.
Video diaries of the field trip will be released today at

Kimberley corals defy conventional scientific understanding in Talbot Bay

Talbot Bay coral discovery defies conventional belief

The clarity of the water is affected by this large inter-tidal flow thus the discovery of corals in this environment is a surprise. Flickr: Waltzing Van
KIMBERLEY coral reefs are thriving in turbid inter-tidal conditions and defying conventional scientific understandings that corals need clear oceanic waters to survive.
Marine biologist Dr Barry Wilson last year spent time at Turtle Reef in Talbot Bay, on advice from One Arm Point’s Bardi-Jawi people.
Dr Wilson says there is greater diversity of coral species in Kimberley reefs than in oceanic atolls or the Great Barrier Reef.
“There have been 318 species of corals recorded now on the Kimberley coast,” he says.
Researchers in the late 1940s said the Kimberley had “a profusion of ordinary fringing reefs”.
Dr Wilson says they were right about the profusion of Kimberley reefs, but not about them being ordinary.
Known to survive at a depth of 60 metres in clear oceanic waters, Dr Wilson has found Talbot Bay corals as deep as 20 metres in turbid, muddy conditions.
Dr Wilson says non-Indigenous scientists would not normally look for corals in locations such as Turtle Reef.
“The water is very far from clear and oceanic—it’s turbid and the light doesn’t penetrate far. It’s not the sort of environment [conventional] corals require, yet we’ve got this prolific growth of corals,” he says
“This is in a land-locked gulf, you’ve really got to navigate your way in and you will have [difficulty] getting out if you don’t know your way.
“[The environment] is macro-tidal, [it has] eleven metres of tidal flow twice a day.
“As a consequence … the current flows away and you get whirlpools in the ocean,” he says.
The clarity of the water is affected by this large inter-tidal flow thus the discovery of corals in this environment is a surprise.
About 70 per cent of the Talbot Bay corals appear to be common to Queensland’s Barrier Reef.
Dr Wilson suspects the remaining 30 per cent will be found in Indonesia’s Maluku province, because of its proximity to Australia. He says the discovery turns conventional thought about coral on its head.
“This is the sort of information which some people will find difficult to believe because they have all been taught that corals all need clear oceanic water and it’s not true,” he says.
The original article 'Reconnaissance of species-rich coral reefs in a muddy, macro-tidal, enclosed embayment, – Talbot Bay, Kimberley, Western Australia' has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia issue 94.