Last month, the Conservation Council of South Australia moved that a special Cuttlefish Taskforce be formed to investigate the alarming decline of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish aggregating population of Upper Spencer Gulf. Thus far it has received some support, including that of the Whyalla City Council last week. In Adelaide, Greens MLC Mark Parnell continues to ask questions of the Government’s management of this issue in Parliament. Verbal support has been given by several relevant Government departments, but to date no public funding has been committed to the Taskforce. This slowness to act is proving to be a repeat of last year’s events, when some funding (approximately $100,000 of combined State and Federal funding) was committed to habitat mapping and other research- but it came so late in the season that it would prove to have no immediate effect on assisting the population’s recovery.
In South Australia’s Strategic Plan (Progress Report 2010), under the chapter on Attaining Sustainability, ‘No Species Loss’ was the first item on the agenda. The Giant Australian Cuttlefish was listed as one of the species of concern. A decline in 2009 was acknowledged in this report, and the adjacent description declared:
‘Cause of decline is uncertain. Possibly related to illegal fishing and habitat degradation.’
Only eight other animals were listed in this report as being in decline, so it is fair to say that the Government has been vividly aware of this problem since at least 2009. The problem (as readers of this website will be well aware) has since become markedly worse. Still we see no Government supported action to reverse the animal’s decline. This proves particularly ironic, when the current 2011 revision of the State’s Strategic Plan states in its introduction:
‘In areas where we have fallen short, we are committed to redoubling our efforts.’
So while we play a game of ‘wait and see’ in regards to Government support, let’s look at the complex web of potential impacts the Giant Australian Cuttlefish we have identified. It would be convenient for many of these businesses with an interest in continuing to operate at Point Lowly or establish new plants and facilities there to watch the cuttlefish slip away and chalk it up as a ‘natural decline’. For some, the cuttlefish remain a significant environmental barrier to future project approval.
Known potential impacts on the Giant Australian Cuttlefish
- SANTOS Port Bonython Gas Plant – hydrocarbons leak – remediation ongoing
- Onesteel’s Steelworks – liquid emissions (inc. ammonia) to the Gulf – EPA licensed and ongoing
- Nyrstar Port Pirie Lead Smelter – EPA licensed emissions, including heavy metals, ongoing
- Dredging of shipping channels in Upper Spencer Gulf – mobilising heavy metals in sediment
- Seismic surveying of the seafloor and underlying geology – potential to mame or kill cuttlefish
- Pilot desalination plant – release of anti-scalant and treatment chemicals adjacent to breeding reef
- Fish farming in Fitzgerald Bay – impacts of feed and effluent on water chemistry
- Fisheries bycatch of cuttlefish – including prawn, lobster and crab fisheries
- Targeted commercial fishing – near Point Lowly, seasonal at aggregation time
- Recreational fishing – opportunistic catch and utilisation as bait
- Redistribution of predators in Spencer Gulf – NZ Fur Seal sightings in 2011 and 2012
- Stormwater – from Port Pirie, Port Germein, Whyalla, Port Augusta – ongoing
- Seepage from Septic Tanks beneath coastal homes
- Agricultural run-off during high rainfall years
- Climate change
Pending NEW impacts on the Giant Australian Cuttlefish
- BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam desalination plant – approved, first water within 7-10 years
- Port Bonython Iron Ore Export Facility – drafting EIS, risk during jetty construction, operation & shipping
- Possible dredging to improve deepwater access to proposed Port Bonython iron ore export facility
- Desalination plant at Port Germein (137 million litres per day) to provide water for transport of iron ore in slurry to Port Pirie from region between Peterborough and Broken Hill (concept stage)
- Increased shipping for iron ore export from Port Pirie (Flinders Ports), Whyalla (Arrium) and Port Bonython.
- Port Bonython Fuels Project (Mitsubishi) – diesel distribution hub to import liquids via SANTOS jetty
- Deepak Fertiliser Technical Ammoinum Nitrate (explosives) plant – risk of spillage, increased chemical imports and freight
The above list is why last year we established a petition to call for a moratorium on these future developments, to take effect until the cuttlefish decline is understood. This would see the Precautionary Principle appropriately applied. Our petition is still open, and we urge you to sign and share it if you haven’t already.
We also urge you to show your support for the formation of a Cuttlefish Taskforce to tackle the cuttlefish crisis head-on, with combined expertise from scientific, government, industrial and independent perspectives. Please take a few minute to write a letter to State Environment Minister Paul Caica, and help us spur the Government to act on their promise to prevent species loss, and ‘redouble efforts’ when falling short of their Strategic Plan targets.