Today is Cuttlefish Day, but where is the love in South Australia?

Today is day three of internationally celebrated Cephalopod Awareness Days. More specifically, this day is dedicated to our ten-tentacled friends, the cuttlefish and squid. On what should be an auspicious day for the Giant Australian Cuttlefish of Upper Spencer Gulf, the Cuttlefish Country team asks: are they getting the attention, or even basic respect they are due?

In our opinion, the State of South Australia’s sustainability priority of ‘no species loss’ as detailed in the SA Strategic Plan is fast becoming a sick joke. The Giant Australian Cuttlefish have been listed as a species of concern in the plan since at least 2009, when they were also clearly identified as being in decline. Scientists, including Dr Bronwyn Gillanders and Dr Steve Donellan remain confident that this genetically distinct population, which lives its entire life in the waters of Spencer Gulf to the north of Wallaroo, is indeed its own species. Previous resource industry backers have not stepped forward to fund the necessary research to conclusively prove this, nor is the State stepping forward. Could it be that if the Cuttlefish Country population were found to be their own species, they would prove to be an even more serious impediment to industrial interests in the region?

Show people you care for the cuttlefish by buying some campaign merch

Show people you care for the cuttlefish by buying some campaign merch

A Cuttlefish Workshop facilitated by the  Conservation Council of South Australia, and attended by invited scientists and representatives from the EPA (Environment Protection Authority), DEWNR (Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources), SARDI (South Australian Research & Development Institute) and PIRSA (Primary Industries & Resources South Australia) was held in August. At the end of the day, an agreement was reached by those still present that three actions should be taken immediately.

The first would be to list the Giant Australian Cuttlefish as a protected species under the State’s Fisheries Act, specifically for the Spencer Gulf region. Similar protection exists for the Blue Groper, which cannot be taken in Spencer or Gulf St Vincent waters. Reducing fishing take would help maximise the number of cuttlefish reaching sexual maturity for next year’s breeding season. While the cuttles are not typically targetted outside the annual breeding aggregation, they are regarded as a premium bait for snapper fishers. This protection could be achieved with a stroke of Minister Gail Gago’s pen, and at minimal cost to the state. Feel free to contact her office and make this request personally.

The second recommendation was to nominate the Upper Spencer Gulf population for listing under the Federal EPBC (Environment Protection Biodiversity & Conservation) Act. This would grant them a higher level of protection, and listing is possible for a specific population. This level of protection would also make critical funding for research into identifying and remedying the causes of the animals’ decline more readily attainable.

The third recommendation was to call for a moratorium on industrial development on the Point Lowly peninsula until further notice, something we have been petitioning for online since August 2011. Additional new pressures on the habitat have the potential to make recovery for this population even harder than it already appears. Interestingly, recent announcements regarding the development of the Port Bonython iron ore export facility’s commercial viability suggest that it may ultimately join the ranks of suspended or cancelled projects for the peninsula. These currently include BHP Billiton’s desalination plant for Olympic Dam (suspended), and the Deepak Fertilizers Ammonium Nitrate explosives factory (cancelled).

In a recent article in The Advertiser, the State Government took the line:

‘It is prudent to wait for the results of more research before taking action.’

What is the State really saying? We suspect Ministers Koutsantonis and Caica are well aware of the cuttlefish presenting a potential barrier to future mining industry specific project approval. We know that the State is eager to see iron ore export facilities developed, so that it can become a beneficiary of royalties from emerging mines on Eyre Peninsula. The State has a self-evident agenda to turn the Point Lowly peninsula into an industrial estate, and has rejected members of Whyalla’s community who have suggested alternative locations for these developments which would allow the cuttlefish the sanctity of their home, and retain the economic benefits for Whyalla’s human population.

We would like to know what research the State Government has undertaken in recent years to understand the cuttlefish’s decline (if any at all). To our current knowledge, the only research to date has involved counting and habitat mapping. The State appears to be, whether by greed, incompetence or frugality, be beckoning forth the demise of an inconvenient but much beloved living barrier to project approval.

The Giant Australian Cuttlefish performs its vanishing act

The Giant Australian Cuttlefish performs its vanishing act in 2012

We wish the all of our friends and supporters the best for Cephalopod Awareness Days, and wish the young hatchlings of the 2012 season good fortune in facing the many challenges of survival. Be sure to share this article widely, and strike up cuttlefish conversations so that we may see a brighter future for the iconic residents of Cuttlefish Country. Our petition for a moratorium on Point Lowly peninsula developments is still open, and your help soliciting signatures is deeply appreciated.

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

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