Author Archives: A.

Conservation: You’re doing it wrong

The opinions stated in this article are the author's own.

This article is in response to an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 December 2013.
Source: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/survival-is-winning-the-numbers-game-20131213-2zcm6.html or click here.

"Tasked with trying to save almost 1000 threatened plant and animal species in NSW, the O'Farrell government is undertaking a version of "conservation triage" where scarce funding will target species with the best chance of survival.
Spending priorities will be ranked according to a cold calculus: the benefit of intervening to save a species, multiplied by the likelihood of success, divided by the cost."

Firstly, I'd just like to say this: If you are in a triage situation, you are in a war. And the other side is winning.

Let's just analyse the situation here from an external perspective. The only reason there is scarce funding, is because the government doesn't allocate it, unlike what appears to be unlimited funding to subsidise the fossil fuel industry. So the formula is flawed from the start because funding to save threatened species is not limited. It is only limited by political expediency within the government.

Next, the formula itself is flawed because it does not include a key variable (ecosystem services) and is too vague to be useful:
"the benefit of intervening to save a species, multiplied by the likelihood of success, divided by the cost."

I guarantee that 'benefit' in the NSW government's mind, is 'political benefit' not 'ecosystem services benefit'. This is clearly demonstrated that what will get funding is in the 'cute and cuddly' range. If you added ecosystem services in, some earthworms might be more worth preserving than some bludging koala that eats leaves all day.

'Success' is not defined either, and I humbly submit that having a couple of breeding pairs hanging about in a zoo is not success. That is failure.

And exactly what is the cost to my unborn grandchildren of not having these species on earth? To go to Christmas Island and to hear only silence where before the air was full of the calls of the tiny pipistrelle bat?

Hugh Possingham says in the article: "It's not any different from running any other business," ... "Everybody in the world, every day, is doing a cost-effective analysis."

With respect Hugh, you're doing it wrong. You are all doing it wrong. You are all perpetuating an economic system which does nothing but harm to the planet and by extension, to ourselves.

We need to be doing everything differently. We need to change how the whole economic and political system works. And this is not about communism or lefty ideology. This is about survival. Of all of us. And by 'us' I mean every damn species on this tiny blue ball. Every single one is worth preserving. Every single one.

I do not accept your ranking system. Apply it to humans and you soon get fascism - some people are worth preserving and some aren't. It's a slippery slope to a very nasty place.

I do not accept your economic argument. Sometimes the most effective things that people can do to preserve a piece of their environment do not cost any money at all. It requires us to refrain from doing something. To not spend the money on the new shopping mall, but to stick with what we have. To not chase after material possessions that don't make us happy anyway.

I do not accept you and your slippery politics. If you really wanted to save threatened species, you would fund on-ground action instead of yet another plan which wastes trees and allows these precious gems of DNA to slip through our fingers forever. Having worked in the on-ground part of the environment sector for many years, I know whereof I speak. I know the slimy caveats you put on funding. I know all about the consultation round-a-bout which produces yet another plan every 10 years and does nothing practical. And let's be clear, when I say 'you' I mean every politician who thinks that money is more important than the pipistrelle.

The fact is, our economic and political system is failing us badly. It is rotten at the core. Time for a new paradigm.

Anna

Mining bigger threat to reef than agriculture, says scientist

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/mining-bigger-threat-to-reef-than-agriculture-says-scientist-20131211-2z6f0.html and http://www.smh.com.au/environment/mining-bigger-threat-to-reef-than-agriculture-says-scientist-20131211-2z6f0.html or click here.

December 12, 2013

Cheryl on the rocks December 2013
Cheryl Watson
'It needs to be protected because it's part of a wider ecosystem": Cheryl Watson Photo: Dean Sewell

Mining poses a greater threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef than agriculture, says one marine scientist who has cast doubt on the federal government's prediction that water quality will improve along the reef coast.

On Tuesday, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave the green light to the dredging and dumping associated with four coal terminals, the building of a LNG refinery and pipeline on the Great Barrier Reef coast.

Environmental conditions attached to the approval include an undertaking that water quality would improve by 150 per cent through a reduction in farm-related sediments flowing into the marine park.

But research scientist at James Cook University's Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research, Jon Brodie, said mining activities presented a greater threat to the reef than agriculture.

''Farmers are going to be asked to save the reef when port authorities and climate change managers are doing nothing,'' he said. ''It puts it all back on farmers.''

Agricultural activity within the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, such as beef grazing and farming releases sediment, chemical and fertiliser run-off. This is discharged from rivers into the sea.

However, Mr Brodie said the damage from the expansion of ports, including dredging sediments contaminated with heavy metals, could prove a greater threat to the health of the reef because - unlike run-off from agriculture - port development was occurring without any transparent and productive management of the risks.

The area off Abbot Point, where 3-million cubic metres of seabed will be dredged and dumped as part of the expansion, is near marine habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows that provide shelter and food for fish, turtles and dugongs. Cloudy water reduces the reach of sunlight that corals and seagrasses need for growth.

Mr Brodie said it was ''one more stress [on the reef] that could have been avoided''.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the conditions Mr Hunt imposed would improve water quality and protect the reef: ''We are actually making things better.''

Gladstone Conservation Council treasurer Cheryl Watson said the government would not have approved the projects if it was serious about protecting the reef.

Among them is Arrow Energy's LNG refinery at Boatshed Point on Curtis Island, off Gladstone in Queensland. The new refinery will be the fourth on the island, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

Mrs Watson said while the southern part of the reef was 40-kilometres away, there were pockets of coral reef within Gladstone Harbour that would be vulnerable to industry growth.

''It needs to be protected because it's part of a wider ecosystem,'' she said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is due to rule on whether the Great Barrier Reef should be added to its ''World Heritage in Danger'' list next year.

with AAP

Hysterical? I’ve got a right to be.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-10/north-qld-coal-port-expansion-approved-with-strict-conditions/5147916

From the above article which you can read in full here: "Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche praised Mr Hunt for using the weight of scientific evidence to put Queenslanders ahead of "increasingly hysterical environmental activists"."

Interesting. The usual dismissal of anyone who opposes big business as somehow weak and foolish. If there is anything I have learnt from being a parent, it is that children get hysterical when they are ignored.

So, yes I am hysterical. Also, I am apoplectic with rage and I am miserable with despair. I am furious that not one sitting member of the ruling party in Queensland is actually listening and acting on our genuine concerns about the planet's life support system. The weight of the scientific evidence is that the coal in the Galilee Basin should be left in the ground, for the ultimate benefit of all Queenslanders.

Now I am not some bleeding heart hippie type person. I am perfectly capable of killing my own dinner and have done so. I grew up in the country, where there is no leeway for squeamishness when there is a job to be done.

I am the proud possessor of not one, but 2 university degrees and a diploma. I have a degree in Science and one in Law, plus the diploma to allow me to be a solicitor. Some might call that over-educated, but in the field of climate science that barely qualifies me to have an opinion.

And my considered, non-hysterical opinion on the latest decision by the Queensland Government is that it is insane. How can we be approving yet another massive coal port in such a sensitive area, let alone approving the dredging that will be required? The evidence from the Port of Gladstone is that dredging severely damages ecosystems. And the particular ecosystem we are talking about is smack bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. This ecosystem is of such beauty and importance that it has been protected by the world.

That's right, the whole world thinks we should protect it. And what is our government doing? It appears to be doing its best to destroy it in a stupid temper tantrum. I have no political leanings - this government and the previous one appear to be indistinguishable from each other and even the Greens are now doing dirty deals.

The thing is, once it's gone, it's gone. You can't bring back an extinct species, whatever Jurassic Park would like you to believe.

So yes I am getting hysterical, in the hope that if I shout loud enough, maybe someone making these decisions will hear me and look at the science.

Anna

Sea level rise no longer considered in Planning Scheme

This was originally published on Gladstone Conservation Council's Facebook page. The opinions are the author's own.

"...we'd all better start praying, because the inevitable outcome of this poor policy is property damage and deaths. " Read more below

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/sea-levels-no-longer-included-in-state-government-planning/story-fnihsrf2-1226778167541

From the linked article (address above) which you can read here: "A leaked Property and Infrastructure Cabinet Committee paper says: "Any local government that elects to include some allowance for sea level rise in their planning schemes will need to justify that the state interests relating to economic development are not materially affected by this.""

Soooo we're going to allow local councils to make their own decision on this, but we can't tell you if councils will be insured if they allow development that gets hit by storm surge, and don't interfere with state projects with piddling objections that they might periodically get flooded with salt water.

Having personally been in a small cabin on the beach front in Bargara as ex-TC Oswald was passing overhead, I can tell you that storm surge is a real issue. Every high tide, the waves got closer, until they were almost underneath the cabin. As sea levels rise, this will only get worse during every extreme event.

I am all for allowing for local knowledge in planning decisions, but only the State Government has the resources to commission the studies to work out where storm surge will cause the most problems. And the money for the major works required to protect existing infrastructure. Local councils will have to do this by guess and by God and with few resources. And speaking of the big fella (no disrespect intended) we'd all better start praying, because the inevitable outcome of this poor policy is property damage and deaths.

By not including something as basic as sea level change in their policy, the State Government is putting money before people. That is unacceptable.

In the end, nature will win out. I just hope I'm not in a tourist cabin on the beachfront when it does.

Anna

Cultural Heritage destruction at Boatshed Point

03 December 2013

It's not like Gladstone has a lot of cultural heritage. Unlike some other old settlements in Australia, there aren't a lot of historical buildings around.
Which makes it all the more important that what little we have is protected and preserved.
This part of the Arrow EIS has recently been drawn to our attention:

Full document can be found here

25.4.1 Known Non-Indigenous Cultural Heritage Sites
...
The following known non-Indigenous cultural heritage sites will be completely destroyed during the construction of the Boatshed Point construction camp and Boatshed Point materials offloading facility:
...
Site No. 8: Ruins of rendered brick building.
...

Cottage at Boatshed Point 2 Cottage at Boatshed Point 1

These photos were taken by Cheryl Watson in 2012.

More photos are available in the EIS

Our concern is this: by what right does a multinational destroy our children's cultural heritage, even if they promise to "Record the ... sites in detail prior to construction and destruction" (EIS Table 25.2 - C25.02). There are people living in Gladstone right now who are descendants of the pioneers who built these items.

Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, these buildings have limited historical value. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, the people of Gladstone are unimportant. Nevertheless, this is where we live, and we must protect our heritage. After all, once these buildings are destroyed, they can never be replaced.

And all this for someone else's short term profits?

It's a betrayal of our children for 'thirty pieces of silver'.

------------------

25.4.1 Known Non-Indigenous Cultural Heritage Sites
The following known non-Indigenous cultural heritage sites will be partially or completely destroyed during the construction of the LNG plant:
Site No. 1: “Birkenhead” outstation.
Site No. 2: Grave at “Birkenhead” outstation.
Site No. 3: Post cutting site.
Site No. 4: Old yards.
Site No. 5: Stock enclosure.
Site No. 6: Historic fence line (will be partially destroyed).
Site No. 10: Former dairy site/fisherman’s hut.
The following known non-Indigenous cultural heritage sites will be completely destroyed during the construction of the Boatshed Point construction camp and Boatshed Point materials offloading facility:
Site No. 7: Pre-1870 track alignment.
Site No. 8: Ruins of rendered brick building.
Site No. 9: China Bay yards occur in the project area for the LNG jetty and would be completely destroyed during construction. However, this site is likely to be impacted or destroyed prior to the construction of the LNG jetty because it is located within the construction footprint of the Santos Gladstone LNG project materials offloading facility, which is under construction. This site will be destroyed and no mitigation is required under the project.
Site No. 11: Various fence alignments (Targinnie) may be disturbed by the construction of TWAF 8 if found to be located within the project area.

Full document can be found here (secured pdf) or here (interactive web)

Clive Palmer and water security in the Galilee Basin

Click here for the "Palmer Drama" 4 Corners episode.

For those concerned about the total impacts of the mines on regional groundwater, there is also on the same page an excellent interview with the former manager of water allocation for the Qld Government, Tom Crothers.

To hear his interview in full (12 minutes), click here (same link as before) and under the little picture of Clive Palmer with a dinosaur on the right, click on the lowest video link.

Thank you to Galilee Basin Alliance for the heads up on this interview.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Summary of the 4 Corners episode:
Monday 25 November 2013

He's a new breed of politician, never before seen in Australia - a man who uses his personal wealth to win political power.

Clive Palmer says he's bankrolled the Palmer United Party to give voice to millions of Australians who can't afford a lobbyist, but can we take him at his word?

Next on Four Corners, reporter Marian Wilkinson examines the rise and rise of Clive Palmer in politics and business, and investigates how the two are connected. She spends time with the newly elected Member for Fairfax in Queensland. She speaks to key political players, including former members of the Queensland Liberal National Party, a party Palmer once so readily supported but now wants to replace.

What she discovers is a complex web of financial and political connections that potentially make him one of the richest and most powerful men in Australia.

At the same time, she uncovers crucial information that suggests Palmer's rise could be followed by an equally rapid fall if things don't go the way he plans.

Fish fears rise over LNG port dredging

Fish fears rise over LNG port dredging
GRAHAM LLOYD THE AUSTRALIAN NOVEMBER 18, 2013 12:00AM
Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/fish-fears-rise-over-lng-port-dredging/story-e6frg8y6-1226762114628#

AN outbreak of diseased fish in Gladstone Harbour coincided with a toxic algal bloom that may have been fed by a leaking rock wall used to contain dredge spoils from the $33 billion Curtis Island LNG projects.

Gladstone Ports Corporation has known about the algal bloom and increased sediment from its infrastructure works for more than two years but only in recent weeks has it made the reports publicly available.

It said it still believed that heavy flooding was the primary cause of the outbreak of fish disease in 2011, as established by a scientific review.

However, the just-published 2011 report says it is "possible that harmful algal blooms may have been a possible contributing factor in the fish disease syndrome".

Veterinarian Matt Landos, who has investigated fish health in Gladstone, said the newly published material provided a convincing alternative point of view.

"Scientists can only work with the data which is provided to them," Dr Landos said.

"The full data now seriously contradicts the conclusions of the state and commonwealth that floods were to blame.

"Given the serious nature of the 'new' information that is now in the public realm, another independent review of the science around causes of Gladstone ecosystem crisis seems warranted, in addition to an inquiry into the decision-making around information control during the project."

The head of the scientific panel for the state's review, Ian Poiner, confirmed that the algae reports were not available at the time of its review into fish health and said he had not studied them in detail to determine whether they contradicted the official finding that the marine-health issues were related to flooding.

Dr Poiner is now chairman of Queensland government's Gladstone Healthy Harbour Panel.

A spokeswoman for GPC, whose dredging project is essential for the development of the Curtis Island liquefied natural gas plant, said the reports were made available to the federal government's independent review panel, which was requested by UNESCO.

The Weekend Australian revealed plans by GPC to dump 12 million cubit metres of dredge spoils into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area have been blocked by Canberra. The spoils from the dredging of a second sea lane will now be used to reclaim land in Gladstone Harbour.

GPC has previously conceded environmental problems caused by a "leaking" bund wall designed to contain dredge spoils.

Gladstone Harbour was closed to fishing in September 2011, following reports from commercial fishermen in August that many fish were showing signs of disease. The ban was lifted but commercial fishermen continued to report high numbers of turtle, dugong and dolphin deaths.

GPC said it commissioned the special water-quality report in October 2011 after higher turbidity readings were recorded during this period, "due to extreme tidal movements, high wind conditions and the porosity of the bund wall".

The report finds "highly turbid waters were most likely created in September/October 2011 due to the addition of fine sediments derived from the overly porous bund wall and dredge-related operations".

It said organic matter comprised a large proportion of the total suspended sediments measured in October 2011, suggesting an algal bloom, particularly in the Western Basin area of the harbour. "Several potential harmful algal species were identified, which have previously been associated with fish kills."

An analysis of the algal bloom by Larelle Fabbro, from Central Queensland University, found three algal types, including Chaetoceros, had previously been associated with fish kills.

"There is scientific evidence that concentrations of Chaetoceros of more than five cells per millilitre can kill fish," Associate Professor Fabbro writes in her report. She says "concentrations of Chaetoceros were as high as 300 cells per millilitre in a sample taken on 12 October, 2011".

"The spines of this diatom spear into the gills and can result in significant damage," the report says.

"The sequence of injury is by initial penetration of the silica spines into the fish gills, capillary bleeding or the production of excessive quantities of mucus leading to death by suffocation."

Associate Professor Fabbro told The Australian it was a condition of her research that she not make any public comment.

But the 2011 report says "the finding of potentially toxic algal species was also of note in light of the fish disease syndrome which was being concurrently investigated in Port Curtis".

"A number of fish, particularly barramundi, had previously been presented in Port Curtis with lesions, rashes and excess mucous production with the syndrome being the focus of a separate independent investigation," it says. "Therefore it is possible that harmful algal blooms may have been a possible contributing factor in the fish disease syndrome."

GPC has confirmed that the water quality reports for September and October 2011 were not made publicly available until September this year.

But it said all relevant reports had been made to all government departments and relevant agencies.

It said the key finding was that research indicates an algal bloom was present in August 2011 prior to the start of dredging with the cutter-section dredge.

"Several potential harmful algal species were identified, which had been previously associated with fish kills," it said. "The algal species identified were not uncommon for the Port Curtis area, for that time of year."

It said an independent panel had concluded that, based on all data available, the most likely cause of fish health issues were flood-related.

- See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/fish-fears-rise-over-lng-port-dredging/story-e6frg8y6-1226762114628#sthash.dyL3QgvW.dpuf

Eco expert says GPC may have breached federal law

Source: http://www.gladstoneobserver.com.au/news/gpc-may-have-breached-law/2084832/#.UoUoi-ERVbk.email

Eco expert says GPC may have breached federal law

 Daniel Burdon

 15th Nov 2013 5:00 AM

THE university behind a study of a toxic chemical in Gladstone Harbour has debunked Gladstone Ports Corporation's claim that it was not allowed to give results to regulators.

And an expert has claimed omitting the study from the environmental impact statement for the Western Basin Dredging project may have breached federal law.

APN revealed last week the port did not tell state or federal environmental authorities about the 2009 study, even after a fish disease outbreak in 2011.

The study found the impact of tributyltin (TBT) - a toxic chemical once used in anti-fouling paints - was worsening for molluscs in some areas of the dredging footprint.

But a port spokeswoman said last week sediment testing found "no or very little contamination issues" from TBT.

Environmental law expert Dr Chris McGrath said the failure to include the report in the EIS may have breached the port's duty to provide information under the Commonwealth approval process.

The University of Queensland lecturer and barrister admitted EIS statements are often "sales brochures that are clearly not a hard look at the project".

He said any proponent that did not provide important information in the EIS could be open to prosecution "for providing false and misleading information to the Commonwealth to gain an approval".

"(Even if) you say something that's literally true, (it) could be misleading when you leave out key bits of information," he said.

The port last week denied it withheld the information from authorities, saying it was not authorised to release the study's findings, and it was not considered "primary research".

But Central Queensland University has confirmed there were no conditions placed on GPC's use of the study or its findings.

"As a partner, they were free to use the information provided to them," a CQU spokesman said.

The GPC declined to respond to questions for today's report.

Taking the Blame

Author: Anna Hitchcock

NB: The opinions in this article are the author's own.

 

It seems incredible to me that so many people have such a hard time accepting that human activity might be to blame for some of the ecological (and human) disasters out there.

As a scientist, I simply look at the facts first.

And the first thing I need to accept - for the proof is right in front of me - is that everything I do, from breathing to drinking a cup of coffee, has an impact on other aspects of my world. After all, my choices create the personal world I live in.

I chose to live in this house, I chose this sort of breakfast, I chose this brand of coffee at the supermarket.

Each one of those choices (large or small) has consequences for my external environment. I choose to shop at this supermarket over that one. Therefore I am partially responsible for that supermarket's success. Therefore I am partially responsible for when they remove koala habitat for their next store.

Now if you take all those consequences to their logical extreme, you would be paralysed into doing nothing at all. But even your death has consequences for the world. There is energy used to deal with your body, to redistribute any wealth you may have built up, to grieve your passing.

And this is why I find it very peculiar that people object when we dare to suggest that a major cumulative human impact like the dredging of Gladstone Harbour might have further reaching impacts down the years.

Apparently we are 'blaming everything that happens on the dredging'. No we are not. But the science regarding extra nutrients causing algal blooms has been settled for a long time.

We know that algal blooms in this area are a 'natural' occurrence. But the scientist in me says this - for how long have these blooms been occurring? What size were they in 1900 compared to now? How frequent were the fish kills and how large were the fish that died? Just how 'natural' are they? Algae is of course a natural part of the ecosystem, and ecosystems ebb and flow and occasionally get out of balance. But why is it taboo to suggest that human activity may have intensified the algal bloom? I don't know to what percentage until someone does the science, but excess algae is a sign of a sick ecosystem. Is it so hard to accept that we might have contributed to this?

Similarly with the large muttonbird or shearwater die off this year. It is very easy to dismiss this as a 'natural' occurrence. But what if our continual pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere has intensified winds to the point that 20% more birds die each migration than they used to?

What if our decision to stop eating these birds has led to a population explosion which now shows up in increased numbers washing up on our beaches?

What if there is something else going on - like radiation exposure at Fukushima has reduced some birds' immune systems to the point where they can't cope with the migratory flight.

Until these things are properly investigated, we can't know whether we have had any input into this or not.

Dismissing these events as 'natural' and therefore not investigating the causes does everyone a disservice.

Who knows what else might be going on?

The dead turtle we recently pictured has a break in its shell which looks like it is from a boat strike. Why couldn't it get out of the way? Maybe it has a belly full of plastic bags and couldn't submerge to avoid the strike. But if no-one investigates the stomach contents of dead turtles to find out why it died, you can't make that link and deal with the cause. The cause in this case being plastic bags which we all use to take groceries home.

For those who don't know, turtles, being otherwise reasonably sensible, have a serious weakness for jellyfish and they get very greedy. A floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish in the water and they will eat any they see. Plastic in stomachs is not confined to turtles either, seabirds also suffer from eating plastic and from getting it tangled around themselves.

Now plastic is not a 'natural' product. It is entirely our creation and therefore our responsibility. It has tremendous advantages to it as a product, and some disadvantages too. The major issue is that some forms do not biodegrade, but get chopped into smaller and smaller pieces and hang around as a kind of toxic soup. More plastic in the belly - less food.

Taking the blame for plastic then, is reasonably easy. Taking the blame for messing about with the climate and ecosystems when the interactions are complex is harder for anyone who doesn't understand how these systems work.

Unfortunately most people have been conditioned to think of the ocean and the air as an inexhaustible and infinite resource. This is not so. Even the mighty Sol (the sun) at the heart of our solar system will one day exhaust his fuel, contract, explode and die.

So to get back to our local situation and a more personal time scale. Yes, the dredging will continue to have an ecological impact long after the initial work is done. The scars on the sea floor and the fine sediment washing about will take a long time to heal and settle. The change in currents due to the Western Basin will change what can grow where. And the dugong may never come back.

The CO2 which in the form of coal we are shipping out of Gladstone Harbour will be burnt overseas and contribute to more intense storms. This gives the people of Gladstone some part of the responsibility for the tragedy in the Philippines. And some part of the responsibility for the more intense and more frequent bushfire season here. And some part of the responsibility for the algae and the dead fish and the dead birds.

I don't know how much is my responsibility. I only know that I need to do whatever is in my power to reduce the burden on an already overstretched ecosystem.

I accepted blame a long time ago, it's time for everyone else to do the same.