Documentary film Cuttlefish Country digs deeper into the Olympic Dam mine expansion and the mystery of Whyalla’s missing cuttlefish

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Adelaide-based documentary filmmakers Dan Monceaux and Emma Sterling from Adelaide production company Danimations have turned a fascination with Whyalla’s Giant Australian Cuttlefish breeding aggregation into a thorough investigation of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine expansion and its social and environmental impacts. Beginning with the disappearance of 90% of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish breeding population this year, their film (currently in production) explores the series of current and future impacts which threaten to drive the population towards extinction.

Last week, BHP Billiton’s 280 megalitre desalination plant received to supply water to the Olympic Dam mine expansion received environmental approval from State and Federal Governments. A location on the Lowly Peninsula has been confirmed, despite warnings from scientists of the potential for total mortality of cuttlefish eggs in adverse tidal and weather conditions. This potential risk is detailed by Spencer Gulf expert oceanographer Jochen Kaempf and Marine Biologist Bronwyn Gillanders in the coming film, with interviews currently available online. The pair has made it their goal to place the voices of the Whyalla community and independent experts such as these on a level playing field with BHP Billiton and Government representatives. The film, due for release in late 2011, will balance the ‘big picture’ risks against the economic spoils the State’s pending mining boom is promising. What has shocked the pair most is that a moratorium on infrastructure projects which could adversely impact the population or its habitat (currently a Port Bonython expansion, explosives factory and the BHP Billiton desalination plant) has not yet been brought online.

“When a population of animals unique in the world drops so dramatically without known cause, the Precautionary Principle must be enacted by Government. Meanwhile, some of the best strategic thinking we’ve seen is coming from the Whyalla community directly- but it’s not getting a fair hearing,” says Dan Monceaux, the film’s director and co-producer. “Our film and online video series will see that it does.”

The filmmakers have also found themselves spearheading an internet campaign of their own to protect and promote the cuttlefish. The Cuttlefish Country website was launched in August and an online petition launched at the same time has since attracted over 2600 signatures from 64 nations. A twitter campaign @SaveCuttlefish is gaining popularity for its cheeky, provocative style, and a series of products promoting the Lowly Peninsula’s landscapes, flora and fauna is now available to buy online to support the filmmakers’ self-funded efforts. The filmmakers believe the peninsula itself could be developed as an SA ecotourism hotspot, and they hope their film will strengthen the case for such an alternative future.

Once complete, the filmmakers will tour ‘Cuttlefish Country’ around South Australia, screening the film and talking with audiences. The film will then spend a year on the international film festival circuit, before moving on to broadcast TV at home and abroad.

“We expect the story we’re telling to resonate with people everywhere. It’s about community, place and sustainable development. It’s about the struggle to balance economics with environmental and social impacts. .. and finally, it’s about people yearning for true democratic representation.”

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Dan Monceaux is a South Australian documentary filmmaker and the director of Cuttlefish Country.

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