Public comments sought on Port Spencer’s threats to Fairy Terns and Southern Right Whales

In October of 2012, emerging iron ore mining company Centrex Metals released additional information regarding their proposed Port Spencer project. The port development, which had previously sought State approval as the Sheep Hill Deep Water Port Facility on Eyre Peninsula, made the release by means of a referral to the EPBC Act- Federal Australian legislation designed to protect matters of national environmental significance. This referral was prompted (at least in part) by our analysis of the company’s Public Environment Report, which admitted to the presence or likely presence of numerous prtoected species in the vicinity. The report also admitted to seasonal bias and associated data deficiencies in its biological surveys, which evidently proved to be cause for concern for the Australian Federal Environment Department. If you’re unfamiliar with Lipson Cove and Lipson Island, watch our Naturescope episode below to get acquainted with this little-known gem on Eyre Peninsula’s east coast.



After consideration of the project’s documentation, the proposal was determined by the Federal Environment Department to be a ‘Controlled Action’ prompting not only the release of new documentation from the company, but a critical new opportunity for the public to voice their concerns. Two trigger species were identified for the project- Eubalaena australisthe Southern Right Whale (which is known to enter Lipson Cove during winter months) and the Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis nereis), a seabird known to the area from records accessible via the Atlas of Living Australia.


Southern Right Whales - SA Whale Centre

Southern Right Whales – Photo: SA Whale Centre


Identified risks to Southern Right Whales include potential acoustic trauma during pile-driving for wharf construction. The animals will also be susceptible to ship-strikes and oil spills as shipping traffic to the region increases.

Impacts to the Fairy Tern include disturbance from new light and sound sources, increased populations of scavenger species (following increased human visitation) and the potential for local prey depletion or dispersal, as a consequence of Centrex Metals’ proposed desalination plant. The cheapest way for desalination plants to dispose of waste brine is to discharge it to the sea. If the brine outflow does not mix adequately with ambient ocean, the brine plume can pool on the ocean floor. Such brine pools are denser than ambient ocean, with up to twice the salinity and increased mineral concentrations. There is a risk that available oxygen in such brine pools can be fully absorbed by the organisms which pass through it, thus creating a de-oxygenated, or ‘dead’ zone. Such dead zones have the potential to travel in ocean currents until they become fully mixed, carrying with them the potential to harm marine organisms which may enter or become exposed to the pool or plume. Oceanographer Jochen Kaempf and marine biologist Bronwyn Gillanders have both shared their knowledge with us on desalination brine’s potential for harm in Youtube video interviews with us.


A Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis) exchanges fish with another, Coorong, South Australia. A Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis) exchanges fish with another, Coorong, South Australia. Photo: Michele Sawyer.

A Fairy Tern (Sterna nereis) exchanges fish with another, Coorong, South Australia. Photo: Michele Sawyer.


The Fairy Tern’s breeding success relies upon availability of suitable prey species in close proximity to their breeding sites. Centrex Metals are yet to prove or disprove the utilisation of Lipson Island by breeding Fairy Terns, as the company only conducted biological surveys on Lipson Island in May of 2011 (winter). Fairy Terns breed in the spring and summer, and are highly mobile the rest of the year. They can also be difficult to distinguish from other tern species, and are known to nest alongside similar species. Fairy Tern breeding failures in South Australia have previously been attributed to poor water management practise. As salinity skyrocketed in the Coorong in South Australia during years of drought, the salinity near Fairy Tern breeding sites became too great for a key prey species, the Hardyhead fish to survive. Such prey depletion caused adult birds to fly further afield to feed, and in turn chicks died from starvation or malnutrition. Fairy Terns are currently listed as Endangered in South Australia.


Little Blue Penguin in burrow on Lipson Island

Little Blue Penguin in burrow on Lipson Island


Though it falls outside of the scope of this EPBC Act ‘Controlled Action’ determination, it is important to note that the Fairy Tern (Sternula nereis nereis) is a small bird and shares common prey species with the Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor). As previously discussed here, the Little Penguin is suffering from dramatic overall population decline in South Australia, and has been recommended for relisting as a vulnerable species in SA. One shocking example is the decline of the Granite Island colony in Encounter Bay, which has plummeted from 1548 animals in 2001 to just 26 in 2012. If the trend continues, it is likely that in the not-too-distant future, the Little Penguin will be nominated to be added to the EPBC List of Federally protected species.

For those of you wishing to express your concerns regarding potential impacts to Southern Right Whales and the Fairy Tern due to this proposed port and desalination plant development, comments are due by June 7th 2013. Here are the essential details:


PROPOSED ACTION: Deep water port project, Port Spencer Stage 1 and 2, Eyre Peninsula South Australia.

LOCATION OF THE ACTION: Spencer Gulf, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

PROPONENT(S): Centrex Metals Ltd and Eyre Iron Pty Ltd


• Listed threatened species and communities (s18 & s18A) (Southern right whale or Eubalaena
australis AND Fairy tern or Sternula nereis nereis


WHERE A COPY CAN BE OBTAINED OR VIEWED: Centrex Metals Ltd Eyre Iron Pty Ltd

Interested persons are invited to submit written comment on the preliminary documentation before or by
close of business on Friday 7 June 2013. Please provide comments via email to:

Please mark attention:
Ms Renee Donnelly
Port Spencer
Golder Associates Pty Ltd
251a Morphett Street, Adelaide, SA 5000


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

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