Robert Mailer and Ben Collins
Dr Simon Allen says confirmation of a dwarf dolphin not previously recorded in waters off the site for a controversial gas precinct demonstrates that the State Government's environmental impact assessment is sub-standard.
These small dolphins swimming off the West Kimberley coast could be a new species. (June 2012) ( -Feral Films)
The dolphin researcher is part of Murdoch University's Cetacean Research Centre which last year made a public submission criticising the Department of State Development's Browse LNG Precinct Strategic Assessment Report on impacts a planned gas processing precinct would have on the marine environment.
The scientists questioned the scientific integrity of this report in part because of their claim that the survey techniques would not be able to distinguish between different species of dolphin. And sure enough, Dr Allen now says that he has determined that there is a type of dolphin not listed in the government report swimming several nautical miles off the coast of James Price Point.
"Its significance lies not in the fact that this is potentially a new species... it's remarkable that a dolphin or a whale could be unknown..."
Dr Allen is yet to confirm the identity of the miniature dolphin which reaches a size of around a metre-and-a-half at maturity. It appears most like the dwarf spinner dolphin found in the Gulf of Thailand, but may yet prove to be a unique species. But Dr Allen is keen to focus on what the dolphin's discovery says about the survey conducted for the State Government's Strategic Assessment rather than the excitement of what may be a species new to science.
"We surely cannot rely on a decision maker to make an assessment on such a large proposal based on an environmental impact assessment that can't identify between one species and another" says Dr Allen.
Woodside petroleum, which is investigating the site of the State Government's gas precinct planned for James Price Point released a statement in response to Dr Allen's criticisms of the marine surveys:
"The Browse LNG Development has invested more than $80 million in environmental studies over many years to provide us with baseline environmental data. This data helps us understand what potential environmental impacts our development may have, and develop best practice approaches to avoiding, mitigating and managing those impacts. The baseline data also provides us with a dataset that we will use to monitor the Browse LNG Development's ongoing environmental performance.
This information also forms the basis of the environmental impact assessments we have supplied to regulators as part of the environmental approvals processes.
The environmental studies, impact assessments and management plans for both the Upstream EIS and the Strategic Assessment have been released for public review and comment and are now before regulators for assessment."