A fishing closure, a marine park sanctuary zone, a desal plant and an iron ore export jetty

As the 2012 Giant Australian Cuttlefish breeding season in Upper Spencer Gulf approaches, South Australian Government departments are sending mixed messages regarding measures to protect the internationally-acclaimed wildlife phenomenon. Today, an extension to the fishing closure was announced, extending its boundary around the tip of Point Lowly to the north. This has been an achilles’ heel for the cuttlefish, who have been fished commercially from this spot to the tune of approximately 20 tonnes of animals per annum. This extension comes as welcome news from PIRSA, but don’t be deceived by this modest gesture of good will. Considering their eggs weren’t sticking to the reef last year, numbers were disastrously low and new predators and development threats were stacking up around them, a few fishing lines could well be the least of their concerns. Below is an image from Google Earth which shows the fishing closure in light blue. It also shows a vision of what the future could look like for the Cuttlefish Country neighbourhood.

Map of Point Lowly - Proposed developments & protected areas

Map of Point Lowly - Proposed developments & protected areas

For several years now, the potential expansion of Port Bonython has cast a shadow over the Giant Australian Cuttlefush breeding ground. While the Santos ‘fenceline’ grew in notoriety as an acclaimed dive and marine tourism site (you can find it marked on the Oceans layer in Google Earth) the very same site was being presented to industry as a prime location for a new bulk commodities port. Significantly developed plans for the facility finally reached the public last month, when the project was referred to the EPBC Act, a piece of Federal Australian legislation designed to protect biodiversity and ecologically significant communities. The referral was not announced to the public by press release or any other means beyond the Government’s own website. Even Google Alerts and direct Google searches for the project’s name were unable to locate the page on the Government website. Had it not been for the observations of Greens MLC Mark Parnell, we would have been none the wiser. The development plans were effectively rendered invisible, despite simultaneously being available for public comment.

So where exactly is Port Bonython? It’s on the Point Lowly Peninsula, about 40km’s from Whyalla, on the western shore of Spencer Gulf. A new ore-loading jetty as proposed will pass directly through most populous section of the highly constrained breeding habitat. This begs the question- is this a case of environmental negligence, or an act of aggression against this innocent and vulnerable population? We’d like the think it’s a case of ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing’ but when you dig a little deeper, the evidence starts to suggests otherwise.

Another long-time political football, the South Australian Marine Parks plan is at last tumbling towards the goal line. Unfortunately it looks, in this corner of Upper Spencer Gulf at least, like the ball is going to hit the post. A newly proposed Marine Park Sanctuary Zone, designed specifically for the protection of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish, has been located conveniently to the west of the Port Bonython site. This allows just enough room for the construction and operation of the newly proposed jetty, and bypasses the heart of the breeding aggregation. Incidentally, the oceanography of Port Bonython also makes it a sub-optimal location for another port in the first place. The site will require a 3 kilometre jetty, and even then, it reaches into a cul-de-sac of ‘deep’ water, barely capable of accommodating the Cape-sized vessels required by the would-be iron ore exporters. Since the port’s original draft concepts of several years ago, many of the potential customers (iron ore mining companies) have opted for alternative solutions, including a new transhipping operation at Lucky Bay, another new port proposal called Port Spencer and the expansion of the Onesteel Wharf in Whyalla.

So what will the cuttlefish of Point Lowly be getting for Christmas (in July)? Right now it looks like an expanded no-take zone (good), a misplaced marine park sanctuary zone (not so good) and a new iron ore jetty (disastrous). Oh, and then there’s the 280 megalitre/day desalination plant for BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam mine, but you know about that already. Oh, and one more thing… a feature documentary film, threading the complex eco-political tapestry together. Look out for more info as the film is completed and release dates are firmed up.

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

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