Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kimberley corals offer hope for reefs

Flip Prior, The West AustralianNovember 21, 2012, 5:30 am
Marine scientist Ali McCarthy popped out of the turquoise water at Shell Island, grinning around her snorkel and holding a purple-tipped staghorn coral - one of many colourful reef specimens turning the shallows near Cygnet Bay into an underwater wonderland.

Despite being bombarded daily by the biggest tides of any tropical reef system in the world, early studies suggest the Kimberley corals survive big fluctuations in temperature, water flow and light intensity to grow at a phenomenal rate.

"The ranges in parameters that they cope with on a daily basis are beyond the thresholds for most other coral reefs throughout the world," Ms McCarthy said.

"Learning what's different and what makes these corals able to adapt and cope with the environment up here may well hold part of the key to helping other reefs elsewhere to be able to survive in a changing climate."

The corals are one reason scientists are flocking to the Kimberley Marine Research Station, on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula at Cygnet Bay, to dive into its pristine waters.

James Brown, a third-generation pearler and marine biologist, established KMRS in 2009 to give students low-cost and easy access to three marine bioregions - King Sound, Canning Basin and the Kimberley.

The area is highly biodiverse and scientists suspect many species are yet to be discovered or understood.

Mr Brown said now that the State Government's investment of millions of dollars into the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy was starting to hit the ground, interest in the region was growing.

In the past year, more than 20 teams of scientists have visited to begin projects - some of which will last years.

As research officer, Ms McCarthy co-ordinates a busy schedule of scientists studying everything from cetacean distribution and abundance to coral bleaching and sedimentation in what she says is a "remarkable environment"."Because it is so isolated, there is a huge amount of diversity up here and relatively very little human impact," she said.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kimberley to be next resource bonanza

Kimberley to be next resource bonanza

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 23/10/2012
Reporter: Matthew Carney
The Kimberley in the north west of Australia has some of the biggest gas, coal, uranium and bauxite reserves in the world and plans to carve it up are well under way but there are concerns that development will destroy the environment.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The current mining boom may have passed its peak but there is a resources bonanza waiting to fuel many more.

The Kimberley in the north-west of Australia has some of the biggest gas, coal, uranium and bauxite reserves in the world.

Tonight, Lateline can reveal the secret plans to industrialise the Kimberley with the potential to power the Australian economy for hundreds of years.

A company that's getting in early is being accused of bending the laws and poisoning the environment in this modern day gold rush.

Matthew Carney travelled to the Kimberley for this exclusive report.

POLICE OFFICER: If you fail to comply, police officers will use reasonable force to remove you and you may be subject to arrest.

MATTHEW CARNEY, REPORTER: The battle at James Price Point, 60 kilometres north of Broome, has been long, bitter and divisive. The Western Australian Government and Woodside have been trying to land an industrial hub here. They want to turn natural gas - sourced thousands of kilometres out to sea at the Browse Basin - into liquid gold, LNG, and to deliver jobs and growth to the state.

PROTESTER: We will be here day in, day out.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Environmentalists, local residents and some Indigenous leaders say the gas hub will destroy the pristine Kimberley coast forever.

PHILLIP ROE, TRADITIONAL OWNER, JAMES PRICE POINT: It's our heritage, our law, our culture and our songs in this, right through here is something very important and it's alive still today as it is. While we're alive that thing is still alive.

PETER TUCKER, CHAIRMAN, SAVE THE KIMBERLEY: We knock this on the head and I think it just gives us, collectively, those that don't want to see the industrialisation of the Kimberley in an ad hoc fashion, it gives us the opportunity then to be on the front foot for other projects that we know are in the melting pot.

MATTHEW CARNEY: And there is a much bigger battle looming, and it's inland of James Price Point. Australia's next resource bonanza lies onshore, in the wilds of the remote Kimberley.

The extent of resources and minerals up for grabs is staggering. Bauxite, diamonds, oil, uranium, gold, iron ore, coal and gas, all of world class reserves. Unknown to most, the carve up of the Kimberley is well under way. About 80 per cent is already under exploration lease.

PETER TUCKER: Iconic places, stunning places, both culturally and environmentally like the Mitchell plateau, the horizontal waterfalls, the Napier ranges, all these places are under serious threat.

WAYNE BERGMANN, CEO, KRED ENTERPRISES: The pressure is coming on us that all indications is Government want to blow it up, dig it up, drill it out, pump it, send it, sell it overseas. We're really concerned because there is no policy in place to ensure responsible development.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Government of Western Australia says it won't be "development at any cost" and the Kimberley's unique environment will be protected.

NORMAN MOORE, WA MINISTER FOR MINES AND PETROLEUM: I have a view that's quite simple: that if we can encourage mining companies and resource development companies to spend a lot of money, as they have to, in Western Australia then they are creating wealth and creating jobs, and it's all about the state's economy and it's all about growth.

MATTHEW CARNEY: One of the first companies operating in the Kimberley interior is Buru Energy. They've struck oil and begun producing commercially on a small scale at the rate of 100,000 litres a day.

ERIC STREIGBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BURU ENERGY: We have a very vigorous exploration program going on. The Ungani field was something that was a very nice surprise for us and we think there's a potential to find quite a few more of them. So hopefully we'll be able to produce a big proportion of Western Australia's oil needs.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The company has also been targeting one of Australia's largest gas reserves: the Canning Super Basin. The reserves onshore potentially dwarf what Woodside is developing offshore at the Browse Basin. So much so the United States Energy Information has tagged the Canning Super Basin as one of the world's next hot spots, with the potential of 229 trillion cubic feet of gas.

By comparison, Woodside plans to exploit only 13 trillion cubic feet in the Browse Basin. The WA Government wants the Canning Basin to be the powerhouse for the state for the next century.

NORMAN MOORE: The onshore gas we hope will be available to service the West Australian domestic economy. At the moment our economy is not big enough to use the sort of gas that we currently may have, but that's going to grow in time.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The plan to industrialise the Kimberley has been in place since 2005, and this is the Western Australian Government's blueprint. It's an extensive guide that costs and locates new ports, industrial hubs and highways to support large scale resource developments, such as an LNG plant and an aluminium smelter to name just a few.

Confidential cabinet papers obtained by Lateline show that plans to develop the Kimberley stepped up after the Liberal Party won the WA election in 2008.

The Barnett Government set up an industry working group with major resource companies to recommend changes to legislation to fast-track approvals.

ROBIN CHAPPLE, GREENS MEMBER OF WA LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: We've amended the planning act to facilitate development assessment panels which override local government, and we're in the process of proposing to amend the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The political opposition says the purpose is to strip back the powers of the Environment and Indigenous ministers and to centralise decision making into the hands of the Premier and the Minister for Mines and Petroleum.

ROBIN CHAPPLE: They just wanted to make sure that the mining sector, the big end of town could get easier access to the minerals in this state by truncating some of the legitimate processes that exist.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Minister for Mines rejects the allegation. He says the industry working group has streamlined an approval process that's become complex and costly for potential investors.

NORMAN MOORE: The way in which they go about doing their approvals we want to make sure it's rigorous, we want to make sure it's the best practice environmental and safety rules that you can put in place. But at the same time we recognise that timeliness is very, very important, and that's mainly where the reform's taken place.

MATTHEW CARNEY: To exploit the massive reserves of gas in the Canning Super Basin, the vast wilderness of the Kimberley will be studded with hundreds of wells, and many of them will have to be fracked - which means chemicals are injected deep underground to release the gas from its tight sand or shale formations. Buru Energy is one of the first companies to frack for gas in the Kimberley at this site, Yulleroo, about 100 kilometres of Broome.

ERIC STREITBERG: It was a relatively low-key operation to try and understand the rock properties. We were fully transparent about what we were doing, including all the chemicals that we used, and we've had a very diligent monitoring program going on post the frack and have seen absolutely no environmental affects.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith is a consultant for NICNAS, the industrial regulator for chemicals, and it's studied Buru's environment management plan for fracking at Yulleroo.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH, NATIONAL TOXICS NETWORK: The group of chemicals Buru Energy are using in their hydraulic fracturing are serious, toxic and hazardous chemicals. None have been assessed for this purpose, yet, for example, some of them list chemicals that can cause birth defects in animals; there are a number there that are central nervous system disorder chemicals.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Buru insists the chemicals used, like ethylene glycol, are safe.

ERIC STREITBERG: We've completely complied with all the regulations in relation to chemical use. The concentrations these chemicals are used in are very low indeed and they're injected three kilometres under the ground. So we feel very comfortable that both the way the chemicals are used and that the regulatory regime that we use them in mean there are no environmental effects.

MATTHEW CARNEY: But Dr Lloyd-Smith says Buru's environmental management plan for fracking is illegal. She says the plan contains material safety data sheets used to set out the risks for chemicals which are out of date, have no Australian contacts and are incomplete. Dr Lloyd-Smith says the document does not conform to the Occupational Safety and Health Act for WA or the national code for material safety data sheets.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: And what's most concerning, I think, is there are chemicals that don't give the full details of the contents. So, while we might get a description, we don't actually get what the chemicals are. And just to explain that, a group that they talk about, which are fluorocarbon surfactants, we know are incredibly persistent. They bioaccumulate. They're found in the blood of people and children. They biomagnify up the food chain.

MATTHEW CARNEY: In response Buru says they use the material safety data sheets that were the industry standard and were approved by the Department of Mines and Petroleum.

Patrick Dodson is a traditional owner of the Yawuru land where the fracking took place. He says while Buru have consulted him at every stage, they haven't disclosed the exact nature of the chemicals used.

PATRICK DODSON, TRADITIONAL OWNER, YAWURU: We want to be satisfied about what it is they're doing and what the likely effects of this will be, not only us but on the environment, you know, on ... particularly on the water table, the they deplete the water table, this is a desert region, it could have huge consequences, and if it destroys the habitat for the ... and destroys the bioregions we will be very ... we want to know about all of this in advance.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Another indigenous leader of the Kimberley, Wayne Bergmann, believes Indigenous rights will be trampled in the rush to riches.

WAYNE BERGMANN: As traditional owners or concerned citizens we're not being provided with the level of information, projects aren't being scrutinised properly. There should be a moratorium on any further drilling in the Canning Basin until there are clear rules and guidelines in place so that we can be assured that world's best practice is being carried out.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Wayne Bergmann has the support from some senior law men of the Kimberley, and they're planning a campaign to resist the resource companies.

JOHN WATSON, TRADITIONAL OWNER, NYIKINA MANGALA: Water is very important for us otherwise we wouldn't be living, you know. I mean we've got a story to this country we're trying to protect.

WAYNE BERGMANN: Through the Kimberley Land Council we're calling a large bush meeting of the five or six traditional owner groups that are predominantly impacted by this. We're going to all stand together and talk up with one voice to ensure these companies don't steamroll us.

MATTHEW CARNEY: The Kimberley may turn out to be the nation's next major environmental battle ground, and James Price Point its first conflict.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Broome's precious hidden water

Ben Collins, ABC

11 October, 2012 11:19AM AWST

The northern tourist town has a hidden lake without which Broome would struggle to survive.

Broome may seem to be something of a miracle: a lush oasis surviving between the desert and the ocean. With the Water Corporation expanding Broome's water infrastructure, it highlights the elusiveness of how this town by the bay, with no lakes or rivers, survives in the hot and harsh climate of North Western Australia.

The secret is under the ground. The Broome sandstone outcrops along the coastline and is famously imprinted by the feet of the biggest dinosaurs known to have walked the Earth. But it's where this ubiquitous layer of rock is hidden below the pindan scrub away from the coast that it serves a much more utilitarian service. Being porous and open to soaking downpours, the Broome sandstone acts like a massive underground rain tank. Each year, five gigalitres (that's 5,000,000,000 litres!) are pumped out of bores sunk into the Broome aquifer to water the gardens, run the showers, fill the pools, quench industry; and people even drink a tiny amount.

An unconfined aquifer is like a secret lake. There's a vast water body out there that grows with the rain and falls when we take from it. Hidden from view, it can be a bit harder to get a feel for this impressive water body. But like any surface water, Broome's little know water source is able to be polluted. A 2001 Water and River's Commission report describes Broome's water supply as vulnerable to industrial contamination. Fuel from tanks and other industrial chemicals can make their way into the water if there is a leak or spill at the surface. The report identifies plans to eventually move the town's airport to a site partially within the existing water reserve as "a potential source of significant groundwater contamination...".

Drilling through the relatively shallow Broome aquifer into deeper confined reservoirs of saltwater or oil also poses a contamination risk. The level of this risk is one of the major contentious points of the international fracking issue.

The Broome aquifer makes the town of Broome possible. Large amounts of clean drinking water in a region that receives an average of just 600 millimetres a year is almost miraculous. That it naturally contains some of the dissolved fluoride needed to keep local teeth shining is nothing short of extraordinary. But there are limits to this font of life.

The Water Corporation have begun works to increase Broome's water supply. Three new bores will be added to the bore field, and new water storage and pipelines are underway to keep water flowing to the ever-growing town. The Department of Water estimates that the Broome bore field could provide up to 10.6 gigalitres without destabilising the saline interface. This is where the fresh water held in the Broome sandstone under land meets the salt water within Broome sandstone under the sea. The risk is that if you take too much freshwater out of the aquifer, then the saltwater will be drawn under the land.

Controversy around the oil and gas industry in the Broome area has driven a focus on the amount of water used by industry. Woodside Petroleum have been investigating using the Broome aquifer as a water source for construction of a gas processing precinct they are considering building 60 kilometres north of Broome. During construction, up to 6 million litres will be used every day. Woodside says that approval to take this water from the Broome aquifer will only be granted by the Department of Water if it is deemed sustainable. The company says a temporary desalination plant will be used if they can't use the aquifer.

During operation of the proposed facility, 5 million litres of water will be needed each day or 1.8 gigalitres each year. This is more than all the water currently used by industry in Broome. A Woodside factsheet on the issues says "It is anticipated that operational water requirements will be met by a permanent desalination facility, powered by electricity generated from natural gas and use water drawn from the ocean."

Concerned residents have also asked questions about the supply of water to the resources industry via the Port of Broome. In 2010 water was barged out of Broome to supply the resources industries on Barrow Island. A desalination plant now supplies this need. But included in the Water Corporation's current Broome upgrades is the replacement of the main pipeline supplying the Broome port.

The CEO of the Broome Port Authority, Captain Vic Justice acknowledges that there is expected to be increased demand for water "...over the next few years in line with offshore resource industry development."

But there's a long way to go before the water supplied to industry via the Broome port is a big part of the overall use. Of the five gigalitres currently used in Broome, 1.3 gigalitres of this is by industry and commercial consumption. Of these 1.3 gigalitres, the Broome Port Authority reports that the most they've provided to industry since 2008 is 58 megalitres in 2010/11. That is under four percent of the water used by industry in Broome.

Even when Broome grows to the point that it uses the full 10.6 gigalitres calculated to be the sustainable extractable volume from the current bore field, predicted to happen around 2035, it's not the limit of the entire aquifer. While the Water Corporation encourages conservative water use as there is a cost to providing water and the associated energy consumption, there is potential to open new bore fields further north. It would seem that if Broome can avoid damaging its aquifer, water won't be the limiting factor in the size of the town blessed with an oasis in the hot dry north.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kimberley Dinosaurs

In the far north of Western Australia, the Kimberley is a region where science has much to learn. The wildlife is abundant and diverse. The landscape is wild and unpolluted. And here on the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, things get really exciting. Only in recent years has its importance as a highway and nursery for humpback whales been recognised. But there's more.

Mark Horstman
What's unique about this coastline is that the largest animals on Earth today are swimming past the footprints of the largest animals ever to have walked the planet.

Written in this sandstone is a dinosaur story from deep time.

Dr Steve Salisbury
There's nowhere else in the world you can come and wander along these beautiful beaches, and come across some of the most important dinosaur tracks anywhere on the planet.

Louise Middleton
It's literally years of study that people need to be here, because we're finding new stuff every day, all over the place, different things. It's a wonderland.

Uniquely, the dinosaur tracks here are interwoven with Aboriginal songlines and creation stories.

Richard Hunter
Well, the footprints are like our ancestors, yeah? They were the first... the first living thing in this country.

But just as science begins to appreciate the full significance of the trackways, their security is threatened by a massive industrial development. For the time on television, in a Catalyst exclusive, you're about to see dinosaur fossils that have never been revealed before. They're found in rocky platforms along the pristine beaches north of Broome.

Mark Horstman
All this is the Broome Sandstone. It runs for 200km along this coastline, up to 280m thick. Where it's exposed between the low tide and the high tide, you find this incredible array of dinosaur footprints, wherever you look. Without seeing it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that this is possible.

130 million years ago it was much more crowded here.

Dr Steve Salisbury
This particular area, the Broome Sandstone, it's the only look we get at Australia's dinosaur fauna during this part of the early Cretaceous. We have no other sites in the continent of this age.

Maybe something there, and then it becomes a lot clearer.

Palaeontologist Steve Salisbury is exploring an extinct ecosystem as we walk through a landscape frozen in time.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Most of the track sites that we see probably only represent, you know, between a few days and a couple of weeks, 130 million years ago, so they really do provide a fantastic snapshot.

At the time this was a vast river plain of muddy swamps and sandbars. Trampling through here were enormous herbivores known as 'sauropods', similar to Brachiosaurus or Diplodocus.

Mark Horstman
There are very few places in the world - and nowhere else in Australia - where I can sit in the footstep of a giant dinosaur. This is one of them, and so is that and that and that and that.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Here, what we get with the tracks is direct evidence of where the dinosaurs were, how many of them there were, and what they were doing, and that's stuff that we often can't get from fossil bones.

So far, Steve and his team have recorded the track types of more than 16 different dinosaurs. The most abundant animals in the track sites are sauropods. They shared these habitats with a diverse number of ornithopods, along with various thyreophorans or armoured dinosaurs. Least common are the carnivorous theropods. The palaeontologists rely on the local knowledge of Louise Middleton. She's explored the tracks with the Aboriginal community for nearly 30 years.

Louise Middleton
Finding Steve and working with the Queensland University has been fantastic for us, and also the fact that the Goolarabooloo people have trusted Steve to undertake this work and to hold certain knowledge that's really not shared with uninitiated men usually.

Dr Steve Salisbury
See, I reckon that's a trackway, just that one, and this is a second one.

Louise Middleton
Yeah, but this one's going in a different direction, mate.

For the past year they've been measuring the stride, pace and angle of the footprints to identify the animals that made them, even whether they were adults or juveniles. The grain of the sandstone is examined in fine detail to work out the habitat it came from. The locations of thousands of tracks are logged and photographed, some as stereo images to make three-dimensional animations. Real 3-D models are made too, using silicone casts. This one is a 10m-long carnivorous theropod, the only track of its type on this coast and perhaps Australia.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Silicone that we can use now sets really quickly - I mean we couldn't have done this ten years ago - and it's ideal for this sort of setting where we've gotta race against the tide.

Mark Horstman

Mark Horstman
You've gotta be quick to study the fossils here. This tide is racing. And this was dry a few minutes ago. The tidal range is up to 10m, and the fossils are only visible at the lowest of low tides, so that's for a few hours for a few days for a few months every year.

The tidal currents and storm surges constantly cover and uncover trackways with sand. Today Steve's team gets to see one for the first time.

Mark Horstman
Oh, yeah.

Dr Steve Salisbury
So, it's really nice. So this is one of the big ornithopod tracks. You can see three toe impressions and one toe pad there, central one here and then this is the second digit coming down into a big, fleshy heel pad. It's a big animal. That's, like... 8m to 9m long, even bigger. That's incredible. It's covered in big sauropod tracks and a number of different types of ornithopod tracks. There's some really clear trackways just over there of potentially a new type of dinosaur.

Dr Steve Salisbury

But their excitement is tempered by where we are - within the proposed footprint of one of the world's largest gas factories.

Dr Steve Salisbury
We'd probably be underneath the breakwater. I mean, the port is right there, so this would go, we would lose it.

The Woodside proposal involves piping gas from deep offshore wells to an onshore processing plant and export terminal, and dredging a port for LNG tankers right here on this stretch of coast.

Mark Horstman
Behind me is James Price Point, the proposed location for Woodside's gas hub, its refinery and its harbour. To give you some sense of the scale of the whole project, the breakwaters that they plan to build to protect the harbour to load the gas, extend 3km out to sea, way past where we are now.

It begs the question - where would the rock to build these massive seawalls come from? In a written statement to Catalyst, Woodside said their port construction would avoid the dinosaur footprints, but...

If footprints, or other fossiles, are discovered during construction, Woodside will identify how the footprints will be avoided, salvaged or scientifically documented.

Dr Steve Salisbury
I don't think we should be making the types of really important decisions about the future of this area that are currently being made by government and industry, and without really knowing what we've got. I mean, it's crazy.

Many agree, and attempts to start construction are being staunchly opposed.

Woodside has no Section 18 to destroy this country.

Traditional owners standing in their own country are issued 'move on' notices by the police. For Goolarabooloo law boss Richard Hunter and his countrymen, the fight is about much more than fossils - it's about cultural survival.

Richard Hunter
You know, we have a songline... We're talking about culture - once they break the songline, well, then there's... We have nothing.

Louise Middleton
Breaking that songline, it's like someone going into the Vatican and smashing the chalices or vandalising the altar - that's the significance and the strength of these dinosaur footprints. They're the creation beings, and to interrupt or destroy that is spitting in your soul.

Every hour spent searching between the tides brings important discoveries, all in the area proposed for the gas development.

Dr Steve Salisbury

170, yeah.

(Both chuckle)

It's gigantic.

Mark Horstman
What have you found?

Dr Steve Salisbury
Probably one of the biggest dinosaur tracks in the world. That enormous impression there is a handprint of a sauropod. Where there's a hand, nearby there's gotta be a foot, and look out...

Mark Horstman
Oh, hang on.

Dr Steve Salisbury
You're treading in it there. That huge big depression is a footprint.

Mark Horstman
That's incredible.

Dr Steve Salisbury
So, it's about...

Currently, the record size for a sauropod foot is 1.5m.

Dr Steve Salisbury
And that footprint's about 1.7m long, yeah, give or take a bit 'cause it's eroded. But this is an enormous animal.

An animal with feet the size of truck tyres would be 7m or 8m high at the hip and at least 35m long.

Dr Steve Salisbury
Think if there's a leg attached to this foot, going up. These were truly gigantic.

Mark Horstman
Yeah. Fantastic.

If tracks of the world's biggest sauropods are impressive then how about rock-solid evidence of an Australian stegosaur?

Dr Steve Salisbury
It's got four stubby little fingers on the hand and then quite a fat three-toed foot, and that combination is really characteristic of stegosaurs. We walk around these rocks now. It's a bit slippery and we go for slides and stuff. He has too. So, you can see here's his left foot, right foot, and then as he's come into this one with his left foot, he's gone for a bit of a... slip down there. It looks like there's a double step - he's kind of slid for a bit and then had to gain his grip, and got to the bottom there and probably quite relieved that he's made it... (Chuckles) ...and then continued up that way.

This find is of global importance. Without tracks like these, we would never know that stegosaurs once existed here.

Louise Middleton
When I found it I realised instantly the significance of it, and I just literally fell on my knees and cried, because I felt that if we can't save James Price Point with these tracks then we'll never save anything.

Steve believes the entire 200km of dinosaur coast is worthy of protection as World Heritage.

Dr Steve Salisbury
It should be conserved in its entirety. There's a whole scientific story that we're only just beginning to understand that requires knowledge of all the track sites together and linking all of them to try to understand the overall context of everything. I mean, you can do dinosaur ecology here.
Topics: Environment, Fossils, Geology

Reporter: Mark Horstman
Producer: Mark Horstman
Researcher: Mark Horstman
Camera: Greg Heap
Second Camera: Richard Costin

Sound: Adam Toole

Editor: Wayne Love
Kate Deegan


Dr Steve Salisbury
University of Queensland

Louise Middleton
Dinosaur tracker, Broome

Richard Hunter
Traditional custodian, Goolarabooloo


Dr Steve Salisbury’s Vertebrate Palaeontology & Biomechanics Lab, Uni of Qld

Tony Thulborn (PLoS, 2012): Impact of Sauropod Dinosaurs on Lagoonal Substrates in the Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous), Western Australia

Tony Thulborn on Radio National’s The Science Show

Uncertainty grows around Kimberley coast gas hub (7.30, ABC)

Report and recommendations of the WA Environmental Protection Authority – Browse Liquefied Gas Precinct, July 2012 (pdf)

WA Department of State Development – summary of measures to protect dinosaur fossils (pdf)

WA Dept of State Development: Palaeontology Survey of the Broome Sandstone - Browse LNG Precinct Report (pdf)

Woodside Browse LNG project

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Broome's quivering red sea

Flip Prior
The West

13 Sept. 2013

Thousands of big, quivering red jellyfish created a spectacle on Cable Beach yesterday.
Marine scientist James Brown, of Cygnet Bay, arrived with his sons about 6.15am to find the jellyfish, which had washed up overnight.
"They were very fresh, being pushed up by little swells that were rolling in," Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown, who set up the Kimberley Marine Research Institute at his Cygnet Bay pearl farm with fellow scientist Ali McCarthy, felt it important to record the phenomenon for further research.
He said globally, such blooms were of great interest to researchers, who were examining possible links between the blooms and effects of climate change.
"They're just trying to get as much evidence as possible - obviously, it's difficult to assess those types of things without people on the ground," he said.
"What we want to do now is find out how widespread they are - whether they stretch up the coast or not."
Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service director, Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin - an international jellyfish expert - said the bloom was "impressive" but "worrisome".
Instantly recognising it as Crambione mastigophora, or sea tomato, she said such blooms may be symptomatic of damaged ecosystems and were increasingly frequent in WA coastal waters.
In 1977, the jellyfish caused an emergency closure of Karratha's power plant after big numbers blocked intake of seawater for its cooling systems.
Blooms were then rare until 2000, when the jellyfish appeared in "unbelievable numbers" , creating a "red band" from Rottnest all the way to up to Derby: "Probably the largest jellyfish bloom on earth."
Since then, the jellyfish have bloomed almost every year in localised areas, with significant numbers in Broome since 2006.
While their diet is unknown, close relatives hoover up big amounts of plankton such as copepods, larvae and fish eggs, causing problems in the ecosystem.
"They not only eat the fish eggs, but also the food that the larval fish would eat, and this double whammy can have a huge impact," Dr Gershwin said.
"When they die in large numbers, they create a huge pulse of goo that makes the bacteria switch to producing a disproportionally huge amount of carbon dioxide."
Worldwide, blooms had been attributed to warming seawaters, overfishing, coastal construction and pollution, she said: "Whether that is what's happening in WA, I don't know."
"I would love to see some really good research on this from somebody local who can really spend the time and effort looking into it … to find out what is going on with the species and what that means for Australian waters and particularly Australian fisheries in years to come.
"My educated guess is that we are going to see a lot more of this critter - and its impacts - as our ecosystems change."

Species:'' Crambione mastigophora, or sea tomato
Origin: Originally named and classified in Malaysia
Appearance: A globular animal about the size, shape and colour as a large tomato. It is "quite unmistakable" and resembles no other jellyfish species
Movement: Little is known about its migratory patterns at this stage
Diet: Unknown, but relatives eat small plankton such as copepods, larvae and fish eggs.
Danger: It causes an annoying and painful but not life-threatening sting

 Some of its close relatives are harvested for food in Asia and Australia

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pearlers past and present in Australian town

BBC News, Broome, Western Australia
In the sparkling waters of Roebuck Bay, three men work on a small boat.
One hauls flat metal cages holding oysters up from the water. Another cleans the shells, passing the cages though high-pressure water jets. A third does a manual check, then puts them back in the sea so the shells can keep on growing.
The plate-sized Pinctada maxima oysters need two years in the warm, nutrient-rich waters. But then they yield treasure - glossy South Sea pearls that are sold around the world.
Pearling has helped shaped Western Australia. One hundred and fifty years ago, wild oysters were so abundant that people could collect them by wading into the sea.
At that time pearls themselves were a rare prize - it was the mother-of-pearl lining the shell that was sought for buttons and ornaments. The industry began in the town of Cossack, but it was Broome, curving around Roebuck Bay, that came to be at its heart.
Settlers came to make their fortunes, building wooden pearl luggers so crews could scour the sea floor. Indigenous skin-divers were used in the very early days but Japanese divers came to dominate when underwater suits were introduced.
Crews came from across South-East Asia and by 1914, Broome had more than 300 luggers and a diverse population of several thousand.
It was a highly lucrative, highly dangerous business. Broome's Japanese cemetery is testament to the hundreds who died, from drowning, the bends or illness. When World War II broke out, however, the Japanese divers were interned or went home.
With the introduction of the plastic button after the war, the industry that had built the town appeared to be in terminal decline.
'Keyhole surgery'
Then came cultured pearls. Before, finding pearls had been a matter of chance. But over several years a technique in which an oyster could be "seeded" to create a pearl had been mastered in Japan.
In 1956, Australia's first cultured pearl farm was opened north of Broome by Tokuichi Kuribayashi of Nippo Pearls, with local partners. Today farms are dotted along Australia's north-west coast.
Paspaley Pearls is Australia's biggest producer, with several farms, including the one in Roebuck Bay. Its purpose-built laboratory ship carries a multinational crew of more than 50 for 10-day stints off 80-Mile Beach, south of Broome, to seed oysters.
The oysters are a mixture of hatchery grown and wild shell gathered by divers. The wild shells are rested for three months after collection, then brought on board.
Richard Mclean, Paspaley's special adviser on pearling, describes the seeding process as "like keyhole surgery". Inside the laboratory, 21 technicians - all Japanese - sit at stainless-steel stations. Using a slim opening in the side of the shell, they insert a tiny piece of Mississippi freshwater clam into the oyster's gonad.
The oyster reacts to the introduction of the foreign body by coating it with layers of nacre - crystallized calcium carbonate and an organic protein. Slowly, layer by layer, a pearl is formed.
The seeded shells are rested again, then moved to farms elsewhere on the coast. They are cleaned regularly and spaced well apart. Yields have increased with experience - about 70% of the seeded shells will produce pearls.
"We've improved over the years - we had to learn how to understand the cycle of the oyster," said Mr Mclean. But it is labour-intensive work that can be wiped out by disease or storms, he adds.
Pearl emerging from oyster in Roebuck Bay on 11 July 2012The Pinctada maxima are the biggest oysters in the world
The pearls, once harvested, range from perfect spheres to irregular "baroques". A select few are sold under the company's own brand but most are sold on the wholesale market - at auctions in Hong Kong, Kobe and Darwin.
"Australia is the top-end [of the market] and usually that means really fine goods, with round, good lustre, generally larger than 12mm in diameter," said Russell Shor, senior industry analyst of the Gemological Institute of America.
"The larger the pearl the more out-of-round they tend to get - they start looking lumpy. It's really, really hard to get round pearls in larger sizes and the Australians are good at it."
'Difficult road'
But it is not an easy time for Australian producers. Figures from the Western Australian Department of Fisheries (DOF) show the industry contracted in value annually from 2006-2009, before a rebound in 2010.
Brett McCallum, of the Pearl Producers' Association (PPA), says there has been "general rationalisation in infrastructure and sharing of operational activities between operators" because of the global financial crisis. In 2010, only a quarter of the total allowed wild shell catch was taken because of market conditions, the DOF said.
Paul Bazar, president of one of the largest pearl distributors in the US, Imperial Deltah, says sales of South Sea pearls dropped for three years while the US economy struggled. "Higher-end sales suffered more than promotional freshwater pearls, which were affordable," he said.
China is the source of these freshwater pearls, smaller but cheaper offerings being cultivated on a much larger scale. Australia's production, Mr Shor said, is "almost statistically meaningless" compared to China.
The Chinese quality is also improving each year, potentially boding ill for Australia. "If China can offer a 14-16mm necklace of really fine quality pearls that look to all the world like they are South Sea pearls, they'll have a really difficult road," he said.
Pearl, Roebuck Bay, 11 July 2012Australian producers are targeting high-end buyers
So the Australians are working to create a niche brand for their product at the top end of the market. "They won't win by cheap labour or fuzzy environmental restrictions," he said. "They have to do everything by the numbers… so they really need to work that high-end."
That brand, however, has been in the spotlight after an ABC documentary raised questions over safety following the death of a Paspaley diver in April. In a statement, the PPA said it rejected claims that the industry was not meeting "the most relevant and appropriate safety standards". An investigation is ongoing.
Paul Bazar says the future depends on the ability of people to buy luxury goods and how Australia competes with low-cost producers.
And he says more work is needed to educate consumers about the value of different pearls. "The lack of knowledge is one of the biggest problems that people who love pearls face," he said.
One such is John Norman, whose father and grandfather were pearling masters in Broome before cultured pearls. He and his wife Verity have written a book on the family's pearling past - which included surviving dips during World War I and the Great Depression.
"This is one of the fluctuations in the market but it will come good again," he said. "These are the best shell - look at the waters, it's pristine, it's virgin sea, there's no contamination."
"The fact of the matter is there is nowhere in the world that has these conditions. These pearls and the techniques are the gold standard that everyone would like to achieve."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kimberley heritage sold out by 'conspiracy of deceit'

  • From:The Australian 
  • September 08, 2012 12:00AM

  • TO understand the Aboriginal heritage concerns of Kimberley law man Joseph Roe, it is necessary to appreciate the cultural meaning of life and death. How ancestral essence flows below the surface of the ground and the worlds are bridged by songs that contain the codes of behaviour fundamental to sustaining the balance and wellbeing of the land and its people.

    These concepts do not sit easily with the practicalities of modern-day life in an export-driven world.

    Roe and other Kimberly law bosses are responsible for keeping their culture alive in an area now targeted by West Australian Premier Colin Barnett and Woodside for a gas hub. So, when they say protection of the area is a matter of life and death, it is easy to dismiss their concerns as histrionic.

    But for more than the past three years some of Australia's most respected Aboriginal heritage lawyers have worked pro bono on Roe's behalf.

    From their Sydney offices, the lawyers have been shocked at what they say has been the contempt with which the West Australian government and Woodside have run roughshod over the state's heritage laws.

    And indigenous heritage has been sold short by the Kimberley Land Council, which may have had the best of intentions but has lacked an ethical spine.

    The lawyers say their investigations reveal a trail of deceit in which records that prove the legitimacy of Roe's heritage claims have been overlooked or ignored.

    The Kimberley Land Council, they argue, has worked with Woodside and the state against the interests of some of its own clients (Roe and the Goolarabooloo people).

    Woodside has been prepared to tell the state government to withdraw warnings that it may be acting in breach of the law that could put its directors in jail. And the government has been happy to comply with its wishes.

    The lawyers have demanded Woodside be prosecuted for criminal acts of damage but their requests have fallen on deaf ears. An application for emergency protection has sat on the desk of federal Environment Minister Tony Burke for more than 12 months.

    Since the company bulldozers first went in, under the protection of state police, a 12-month statute of limitations on prosecution for the initial alleged breaches of the Aboriginal Heritage Act has expired, without the State's investigation of the alleged breaches reaching a conclusion.

    James Price Point is not another Hindmarsh Island, where accounts of secret Aboriginal business surfaced late in the day to derail a proposed development.

    Documents prove that heritage values at James Price Point were identified long before the gas hub was first mooted.

    It is not about whether or not there should be an export gas hub in the Kimberley.

    Or whether an indigenous man with a flawed past has been seduced by the limelight of a national environmental cause.

    The fact is, Dampier law bosses have never given their consent for a gas hub at the James Price Point site being pushed by Barnett and Woodside.

    The traditional custodians have suggested a less culturally sensitive site further to the north that would allow the gas project to go ahead, the $1.3 billion compensation package for local indigenous groups to continue and what is arguably the nation's most defined songline - a path made by Dreamtime ancestors - to remain intact.

    The area's significance, and Roe's authority to speak for it, have been confirmed by Scott Cane, one of Australia's most respected anthropologists, who was commissioned to investigate by the West Australian Department of Indigenous Affairs this year.

    According to Cane's report, there is no doubt Roe has a detailed knowledge of the core narrative that defines the Northern Tradition.

    "It was readily apparent in conservation with Joe that he knows the religious narrative intimately, has a comprehensive grasp of the song cycles associated with the narrative, and is in command of the relationship between that narrative and the landscape in which it is embedded," he said.

    "It was my understanding from Joe Roe that the reasons for maintaining the integrity of the tradition go beyond issues of health and wellbeing into the core law and customs that define regional Aboriginal society and so give rights to land in this part of the Kimberley."

    For Chalk and Fitzgerald lawyer Andrew Chalk, Cane's findings amplify the injustice that has been done to what he describes as perhaps the nation's most comprehensively mapped songline.

    "I have been doing this (cultural heritage work) since before native title existed," Chalk says. "I was involved in the drafting of the Native Title Act. But I have not seen instances where senior people within the state or within a representative body have been so willing to flout their own legal duties to get an outcome.

    "It is about the willingness to put aside lawful process within the Kimberley Land Council and the willingness of the KLC to put aside lawful process within the KLC and for the state to turn a blind eye to its own laws - which carry serious criminal penalties," Chalk says.

    It is a window into how heritage administration is managed in a mining boom in Western Australia, where no matter how significant an area is the government seems happy to look the other way. You will not find another dreaming track in Australia that has been so carefully mapped for such a long period and where in the face of an economic opportunity there is such a preparedness on the part of all the key agencies to ignore the evidence.

    "The native title representative body and the state government's heritage organisation actually want to put their heads in the sand and deny the existence and significance of it."

    According to Chalk, the foundation on which the injustice is built has been the willingness of the Kimberley Land Council to forget or ignore cultural heritage work it was involved in before the gas hub proposal ever existed.

    Lengthy correspondence between the state Department of Indigenous Affairs and Woodside clearly shows how tough the company has decided to play.

    After undertaking its own ground surveys last year and rediscovering heritage information that was accepted in court and by the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee more than 20 years ago, the department wrote to Woodside advising its development work at James Price Point may jeopardise a heritage site.

    Woodside rejected the advice and successfully lobbied for it to be withdrawn. It declined to comment on correspondence with the government, in which it said the timing of the new heritage information was "vexatious".

    But, in a statement, a company spokesperson said: "Woodside is working closely with senior traditional owners to identify and carefully manage Aboriginal culture and heritage at the site of the proposed Browse LNG Precinct.

    "We conduct our activities under the supervision of traditional owner monitors. Comprehensive ethnographic and archeological surveys conducted by traditional owners have been completed to identify the location and nature of Aboriginal heritage sites."

    A spokesperson for the West Australian Minister for Education, Energy and Indigenous Affairs, Peter Collier, confirmed the advice to Woodside had been withdrawn. "The department withdrew the letter and maps as the content was - upon review - unhelpful and did not properly advise Woodside of known registered sites," the spokesman says.

    The Heritage Act is meant to protect all sites, registered or not.

    Chalk is highly critical of the way the KLC has handled the heritage issues at James Price Point.

    Greens MLA Robin Chapple is prepared to be charitable and say the KLC lacks the "corporate knowledge" of work that has been done in the area over two decades.

    But, according to Chalk, the land council has pushed the gas hub proposal "without reference to the critical Aboriginal heritage significance of the area". A meeting of law bosses in 2005 supported the Roe position that the area was too sensitive to be developed. But the KLC pushed ahead.

    "There is no issue the KLC has every right to push economic development and to propose a gas hub at this location," Chalk says. "What they don't have the right to do, though, is to mislead about the significance of the area, or bury records they hold, or to deny the legitimacy of positions they have pushed under affidavit in the past."

    Chalk's complaints are about process. He says Woodside could have sought upfront approval for its works under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, but chose not to.

    And he says the state has been prepared to participate in an abuse of process to strengthen Woodside's hand. He accuses the company of acting outside the bounds of its heritage mission statement.

    "Even if it is legal, should a company like Woodside be bulldozing a place like this?" Chalk asks.

    Nonetheless, he has some sympathy for the KLC's position.

    "Two years ago, we would have given the same advice as the KLC that the prospects of stopping this project are so remote you are better off taking the compensation package and trying to manage the impacts because in all likelihood it is going to go ahead," Chalk says. "But, equally, you have an ethical duty to present all of the evidence as to the significance of the area and not to hide the bits that don't make your advice easier to give."

    Chalk says the difficulty for the KLC is that, no matter how logical its reasoning may be, Roe's responsibilities under indigenous law do not allow for compromise.

    "It is no different to saying to some Orthodox Jews, look, the Wailing Wall and East Jerusalem is not worth the grief.

    "I am no fan of what is happening in Israel but - to people to whom that is such a sacred symbol - the arguments about economics and everything else don't carry much weight. That is why this issue won't go away."

    Gas giant Woodside silences advice on songlines

  • From:
  • The Australian 
  • September 08, 2012 12:00AM

  • WOODSIDE wrote to the West Australian government at least twice last year asking it to withdraw written advice about the possible existence of significant Aboriginal sites in areas disturbed by its proposed $40 billion James Price Point gas hub.
    Any damage to the sites integral to an important Aboriginal men's song cycle could leave the resources giant and its directors liable for criminal prosecution under the state's Aboriginal Heritage Act.
    A government spokesman confirmed that the Barnett government succumbed to Woodside's wishes and withdrew the letters.
    Andrew Chalk, lawyer for indigenous law boss Joseph Roe, who claims cultural responsibility for the area, said Woodside's actions had been "like asking a burglar not to tell a buyer that goods for sale are stolen".
    Mr Chalk said letters from Woodside to the state government underscored how the government and the company had run roughshod over heritage concerns at the site near Broome in pursuit of development.
    He said that the song cycle had been well documented for more than two decades but many details of it are considered men's business and must remain secret.
    The WA Department of Indigenous Affairs wrote to Woodside after evaluating heritage claims following contentious site works in the middle of last year.
    The visit followed the discovery of heritage records that pre-dated the Woodside proposal and included interviews with Mr Roe.
    Lawyers claim information about the area's heritage value in the Kimberley Land Council's possession since 1991 was not included in the heritage advice given to Woodside more recently.
    The material pre-dates Woodside's decision to investigate the gas hub site.
    Scott Cane, an anthropologist commissioned by Indigenous Affairs, has confirmed Mr Roe's standing as a significant figure in indigenous law for the area.
    "It is clear to me that his knowledge of the religious tradition is comprehensive and his commitment to that 'law' is consistent with both his knowledge of the tradition and his ancestral responsibility to it," Dr Cane wrote in his report on July 16.
    Dr Cane's report follows the rejection of DIA's advice about the significance of the area the previous year.
    In a letter to the state government dated September 5, 2011, Woodside thanked the department for withdrawing an earlier letter expressing the potential significance of the area. It asked that further advice from the department in relation to a "possible site" in the vicinity of the proposed gas hub also be withdrawn.
    Woodside had said the area involved was too big and the timing was vexatious.
    The company objected to details of the significance of the area being withheld on the basis they were for initiated males.
    Woodside said it was being denied "procedural fairness".
    A spokesman for WA Education, Energy and Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier confirmed the advice to Woodside had been withdrawn. "The department withdrew the letter and maps as the content was, upon review, unhelpful and did not properly advise Woodside of known registered sites," he said.
    A Woodside spokeswoman declined to comment specifically on communications with the state government.
    But in a statement, Woodside said the company was working closely with senior traditional owners to identify and carefully manage Aboriginal cultural heritage at the site of the proposed gas hub. "We conduct our activities under the supervision of traditional owner monitors," it said.
    "Comprehensive ethnographic and archeological surveys conducted by traditional owners have been completed to identify the location and nature of Aboriginal heritage sites."
    Woodside would seek all additional consents and approvals needed to conduct any activities in areas known to contain Aboriginal heritage.
    The project, with a $1.3bn social benefit package for Kimberley Aborigines, has split Broome's indigenous community and drawn environmental protesters from all over Australia.

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    Fighting for the whales

    Flip Prior, The West  
    8 August 2012

    "Babies breaching," someone shouted, and everyone rushed to the side of Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin vessel, binoculars at the ready under the black Jolly Roger flag flapping in the breeze.

    In the distance, several kilometres from the Dampier Peninsula coastline, an adult whale slapped her tail and blew plumes of water as her young calf playfully breached beside her, silvery in the early morning sun.

    Kimberley naturalist Richard Costin pointed back to the coast, where red rocks loomed above bright white sand.

    "We're just coming into the development area for the proposed James Price Point gas hub … (it) has the highest concentration of whales on the Kimberley coast," he said.

    "From here through to the Lacipede Islands, the work that we've done in the last three or four years has pinpointed this area as being perhaps the most important area on the Kimberley coast for the whales.

    "The whales are actually calving all the way along the coast … between the 80 mile beach and just to the north of Camden Sound. The calving grounds, up until now, have been totally undisturbed."

    The whales were the first of 22 - including at least 10 calves - to be spotted today between Broome and James Price Point, the site of the State Government and Woodside's proposed gas hub.

    For former Greens Senator Bob Brown, the sight proved his point: that the area was the "world's biggest whale nursery" and the wrong place for the development.

    "This is a national whale sanctuary - here we are to protect it," Mr Brown said. "The whale nursery cannot co-exist safely with a gas factory. As a nation, we should be protecting it."

    How many whales inhabit these Kimberley waters - and what effect the proposed gas hub will have on their annual migration from Antarctic waters in the south to give birth in the north- is proving the latest flashpoint in a long series of battles between those for and against the hub.

    Woodside has said the most important calving ground for the whales are much further north in Camden Sound and that the impacts on whales passing by the proposed development can be adequately managed and mitigated.

    Others - including the crew of the controversial anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin - disagree.

    Earlier this week, the vessel sailed into Broome to ramp up the campaign against the proposed gas hub by drawing international attention to whales in the region in a bid to embarrass those who are part of the project.

    This morning, surveying the calm waters and blue skies, Captain Malcolm Holland admitted it was not the Sea Shepherd's typical kind of campaign Usually, the crew are in the Antarctic, dodging bullets, water cannons, acoustic devices and flash bang grenades in stormy seas, getting rammed by ships manned by the armed Japanese coastguard.

    However, he sees the Kimberley action as just as vital, pointing out it involves the same whales.

    "This is a very different kind of campaign … what we're doing on this campaign is showing what it's like up here - that they're building a heavy industrial facility and international sea port right alongside the biggest humpback whale nursery in Australia," he said.Despite the pirate motifs and camouflage paint all over the ship, the Sea Shepherd has a polite crew, reminded by signs all over the place of the strict rules: no drinking, no smoking, no fraternising, no shouting.

    Cow and calf off Quandong Point. Picture: Annabelle Sandes/Kimberley MediaVisitors on board are also hardly an anarchistic bunch - among them, rich former Melbourne merchant banker Phillip Wallon, now an extremely wealthy philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to supporting the Sea Shepherd's cause.

    This morning, he threw in an extra $100,000 and suggested others who could afford it should do the same.

    "This is a battle that we just cannot afford to lose," he said. "10,000 entire species are wiped out every year because of the actions of one species … that is a crime of unimaginable proportions."

    "I come from a corporate background. I am pro business … I don't want to shut anything down. But I also want to make sure that we take care of all the externalities - the costs that business imposes on communities and the environment must also be taken into account."

    Retired Queens Counsel Murray Wilcox, said he was interested in seeing how close the whales intersected with the site of the proposed gas hub.

    "It's obviously a very close relationship," he said.

    He denied the Sea Shepherd was run by anarchists: "I think this is people who are very concerned about an issue that should concern us all," he said.

    "I think the Kimberley is one of the most beautiful areas in Australia - certainly one of the most pristine areas - and we have an opportunity to preserve a fairly well untouched wilderness area.

    "If we don't, there will be nothing left for our grandchildren. It is possible to exploit the gas reserves from the Browse basin without building a Kimberley gas plant."

    Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard agrees. He said research carried out by community volunteers had counted 1441 humpback whales passing through since July 1, 1200 within 8km of the shore.

    However, he said the Environmental Protection Authority had stated that on their annual northern migration, about 1000 whales would be expected to go past during an entire season.

    "In three weeks, just looking four hours a day, we're already had 1200 whales counted and about 90 cow-calf pairs," Mr Pritchard said. "It's actually proving Woodside and the State Government's research wrong."

    Mr Costin said he had no faith in the research commissioned by Woodside and the State Government and even believes the results were deliberately fudged.

    "When you look at the results at face value … the survey work … that is being relied on is totally unreliable," he said.

    "And no-one really understands what effect the discharges from an LNG facility processing 50 million tonnes per annum would have on the marine environment."

    Sea Shepherd Australia spokesman Jeff Hansen pledged that the ship would return to defend the whales in Kimberley waters for as long as it took to stop the project from going ahead.

    "We do our best every year to save as many whales as we can in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the Australian Antarctic Territory," he said.

    "If the Australian government is not going to protect those waters, then the very least they can do is make sure that their largest humpback whale nursery is safe and protected, here north of Broome.

    "If they're under threat here, then we're here to do whatever we can within the law to protect them here."People all around the world have the right to know that this is the largest humpback whale nursery and that the gas hub will go right through the middle of it."

    Genetic tracing fish offspring outside Kimberley no-take sanctuaries proposed

    DNA tracking has been used to monitoring the effect of marine sanctuaries on stocks at nearby fisheries.

    James Cook University marine biologist Prof Geoff Jones says the method could be easily used to study the impact of the new no-take zones at Camden Sound Marine Park off the Kimberley coast.
    “The purpose of the study was to basically work out whether or not there were added benefits of having marine sanctuaries for restocking fish populations outside reserves,” he says.
    “We’ve known for a long time that adult numbers build up in reserves, so there’s obviously some sort of conservation benefit within the reserve boundary.
    “What people really wanted to know is ‘does that do any good for the fishery outside?’.”
    He said there had never been a previously-agreed method for tracing the dispersal of baby fish from their parents.
    “We put a lot of thought into that and we came up with a DNA technique.
    “We now have the ability to find juvenile fish, sample the DNA of adults and then work out who belongs to whom.
    “We did the proof of concept of this, years ago, using clown fishes.
    “We not only did the DNA but we were able to tag eggs using a chemical marking technique - and we had almost 100% correspondence between the two different techniques.
    Professor Jones and his colleagues applied the technique to coral trout breeding in three marine sanctuaries at Great Barrier Reef’s Keppel Islands.
    “We were just amazed [at] how many small baby fish that we found that we could relate to parents back at the reserves,” he says.
    “What astounded us really was that a lot of them were within one or two and up to 10 or 20 kilometres away from the reserve.
    “I think it’s important to repeat the kind of work that we did on other species in other places just to see how this unfolds in terms of being a general concept.”
    He says it would be well worth applying the method to a study of fish populations in and near the two no-take zones declared earlier this year at the new Camden Sound Marine Park, off the Kimberley coast.
    “You can take a lot of conservation actions and you don’t really know if it’s beneficial for many years down the track—but for reserves you can see within two or three years something has happened.”