A letter about Giant Australian Cuttlefish protection, marine pollution and Point Lowly development alternatives

Today we wrote to the South Australian State Premier, Environment and Tourism ministers asking about their actions to date regarding the cuttlefish decline, calling for research disclosure and detailing some of our experiences with the withholding of water quality and marine pollution data from the public. You can read our letter below.

 

A cuttlefish expresses his concern - artwork by Heather LeMay

A cuttlefish expresses his concern – artwork by Heather LeMay

 

Dear Premier Weatherill, Ministers Caica and Gago,

I am writing to request an urgent update on the progress being made by the State’s Cuttlefish Working Party and SARDI research into the cuttlefish decline of recent years. I ought not need to remind you of the State’s Strategic Plan target of ‘No Species Loss’ under which the Northern Spencer Gulf population of Giant Australian Cuttlefish have been listed as ‘in decline’ since at least 2009.

I was recently saddened to read that Minister Gago regards protection for the species under the State’s Fisheries Act as unnecessary, and of no benefit to the population’s viability. An important human behavior you may not be aware of must be considered in light of this. These animals are regarded among the recreational fishing community as prime bait for snapper, and are opportunistically taken for this purpose year-round, outside the closure area.

A Giant Australian Cuttlefish camouflages among the weed at Black Point, 2011

A Giant Australian Cuttlefish camouflages among the weed at Black Point, 2011

Protection under the Fisheries Act would discourage (or ideally halt) the taking of Giant Australian Cuttlefish for this purpose, which would in turn maximize the number of animals able to return to the Point Lowly breeding grounds in the winter of 2013. It would also greatly assist the public in understanding the gravity of the situation the Giant Australian Cuttlefish of Northern Spencer Gulf are facing. Plummeting from 250,000 animals to approximately 6,000 warrants a more assertive response than simply extending monitoring and research efforts, the scope or results of which do not appear to be publicly available.

I wish to request in your replies a detailed summary of specific SARDI research works undertaken in the past 3 years related to the cuttlefish and their habitat, along with any notes and documentation produced by the Cuttlefish Working Party. As you likely already know, I am currently producing a feature length documentary about the cuttlefish and development plans for Spencer Gulf and consider this information to be of significant public interest.

It is my perception that the cuttlefish have, since the announcement of plans to expand Olympic Dam back in 2005, represented an inconvenience to industry as a clear environmental threat to project development. By failing to act in accordance with the precautionary principal (which underpins our environmental laws, in theory at least) the current State Government has allowed the cuttlefish population to reach present dire straits, with the complicity of corporate interests who have withheld their privately generated monitoring data from public view.

As an independent researcher and documentary filmmaker, I have approached the EPA to request water quality data for the marine environment. To date I have been denied access to this information. This data is not available to the public, and I find it a matter of serious concern that no marine water quality data has been released since 2007. You must understand that this looks highly suspicious when considered in combination with Santos’ hydrocarbons leak at Port Bonython, which was discovered during 2008. We have been informed by an EPA representative that leaked hydrocarbons reached the intertidal zone (and therefore the sea) at the cuttlefish reef and are gravely concerned that this matter is being again, withheld from the public. We understand from Santos staff that ‘remediation is ongoing’ at the Santos Port Bonython facility, and to date no penalty nor prosecution has been made against Santos for their site contamination. Little is known about the effects of hydrocarbons on marine biota, including the Giant Australian Cuttelfish, and therefore this leak cannot be dismissed as a potential impact contributing to the animals’ decline.

Similarly, it has become known to us that Onesteel’s (now Arrium) operation at Whyalla discharges significant volumes of ammonia nutrient (a by-product of the steelworks’ coke ovens) directly into Spencer Gulf. It is important to understand that the Spencer Gulf system exists at the extreme low end of the international range for the Southern Hemisphere (confirmed by Adelaide University Professor Sean Connell) and animals living in Northern Spencer Gulf have evolved to survive in waters with an extremely low amount of nutrient in the water. I ask you, how is it that Onesteel are permitted to release this waste product into Spencer Gulf, in light of this, while not mentioning any marine discharges at all in their annual Sustainability Reports? Modelling of water circulation in Spencer Gulf suggests that this input would flow in the direction of the cuttlefish reefs of Point Lowly, and we know that the Gulf is a slow-flushing system. It is also common knowledge amongst aquarists (keepers of pet cephalopods, of which the Giant Australian cuttlefish is one) that nitrogren/nutrient levels in water must be kept to an absolute minimum in order to keep these animals alive and well. It is my belief that the nutrient tolerance of these animals and their eggs should be considered a research priority, and every effort be made to reduce or halt nutrient discharges into the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park from Arrium’s coke ovens.

In light of the recent decision for BHP Billiton to defer their Olympic Dam expansion plans, this has created a window of opportunity for the State Government to responsibly address the matter of the cuttlefish decline and aforementioned matters of industrial inputs into the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park. I and many others (including members of Whyalla community groups Save Point Lowly, Cuttlefish Coast Coalition and Alternative Ports Working Party) firmly believe that the cuttlefish aggregation is too precious to lose, and that a viable alternative future which presents the Point Lowly Peninsula as the gateway to the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park as a significant marine ecotourism destination should be duly considered. It is the APWP’s belief that all industrial proposals currently on the table could be relocated to the various vacant industrial estates nearer to Whyalla, and away from this fragile area. I urge you to contact APWP spokesperson Sid Wilson and consider the APWP’s ‘Best of Both’ development scenario, which incorporates the relocation of the proposed Port Bonython iron ore jetty to a site on Nonowie Station, south of Whyalla.

In closing, let me remind you that the Government’s decisions, actions and inaction are under close scrutiny and will be reflected accurately in our film once complete.

Your sincerely,

 

Dan Monceaux
Director, Cuttlefish Country

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

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