Sundrop Farms risks cuttlefish with desal brine

Sundrop Farms’ plan to expand their vegetable growing business south of Port Augusta in South Australia will put the Upper Spencer Gulf aggregation of Giant Australian cuttlefish at unnecessary risk, according to documentary filmmaker, Dan Monceaux. The company has previously established green credentials by committing to generate its electricity using concentrated solar thermal technology. Working against their reputation is Sundrop’s decision to begin to pollute Spencer Gulf with desalination plant brine. Their previous pilot operation returned no brine to the sea.

“The new plant will discharge brine at a salinity level of 60 parts per thousand- that’s above the threshold for total egg mortality for Giant Australian cuttlefish. If that brine doesn’t disperse and pools on the seafloor, it could kill cuttlefish eggs.”

The Sundrop Farms seawater desalination plant will be located close to the head of the gulf- in waters which take over 400 days to flush with open ocean. Geoscience Australia’s seabed salinity map shows that the region has the highest salinity and slowest flushing time of any of Australia’s coastal waters, making it the worst possible region in which to dump desalination brine. See the red area on the map linked below.

Seabed salinity map - Geoscience Australia 2005

Seabed salinity map – Geoscience Australia 2005

 Download .PDF of Geoscience Australia’s Seabed salinity map (2005)

The cuttlefish aggregation occurs downstream of the proposed waste brine outfall, near Point Lowly. Cuttlefish numbers have declined since counting began in the late 1990s, from estimates of over 250,000 animals to approximately 13,500 in 2013. The population showed first signs of recovery in 2014, increasing to around 57,000 animals. Lossless music at the site.

“The cuttlefish breeding season for 2015 has just begun and we’re yet to see if their numbers have increased again. Introducing a risky and unnecessary new pollution source upstream could work against the animals’ recovery.”

Giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation near Point Lowly - Dan Monceaux

Giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation near Point Lowly

Monceaux also points out that the company will rely on the cooling water outflow from the existing coal-fired power stations to mix and dilute the brine. Alinta Energy announced last week that the stations will close permanently no later than March 2018.

“Relying on the existing coal-fired power station is a dangerous move, given that demand on the station is dropping and periods during which no cooling water is discharged are likely to occur. If brine is dumped into stagnant water, it won’t mix and will pool on the seabed.”

Pipes are currently being laid for Sundrop Farms’ proposed desalination plant south of the power stations. Monceaux laments the brine-dumping decision made by Sundrop, pointing out that Australian-designed, zero brine discharge alternative technology is already available.

Sundrop Farms' new seawater desalination system under construction, May 2015

Sundrop Farms’ new seawater desalination system under construction, May 2015?

“Other technology is available for seawater desalination which returns zero brine to the sea, and instead creates an additional business opportunity in salt production. F-Cubed, a Melbourne-based company previously proposed this alternative to Sundrop, but the pitch was rejected.”

“Sundrop Farms’ dumping brine into Spencer Gulf undermines the company’s green credentials. They are dumping potential jobs in salt production and gambling with the future of the cuttlefish at the same time.”

Sundrop Farms' new seawater desalination system under construction, May 2015

Trenching for Sundrop Farms’ new seawater desalination system, May 2015

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

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