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.