NPA NEWS 4
Calling all trades;
Membership - Hands up for benefits;
Wanted - a creative artist;
Jobs, jobs, jobs
A shrimp by any other name ... 5 by Kristi MacDonald
ENVIRONMENT NEWS & ACTION 7
Parks service budget & restructure;
Walk against woodchips;
Biodiversity Act conference;
Mona Vale link threat;
NPWS Advisory Committees;
Minister for the Environment
Waterways - logging, boating & damming:
"We will meet them on the beaches ..." 9 by Brian Everingham
Durras: enduring heart 11 by Geoffrey Bartram
Damming the planet 13 by Stuart Blanch
The pitfalls of mining:
It's time! to stop peat mining 14 by Phillip Kodela
Mining - Negotiating the pitfalls 15 by Anne Reeves
Koongarra - Kakadu's sword of Damocles 17 by Allan Fox
Mining in the far west 19 by Kathy Ridge & Jenny Guice
ACTIVITIES PROGRAM (Supplement following p 12)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 20
FRONT COVER: Mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus, which can grow up to 18 cm long (Photo: Michael Aw Pictures)
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Woodlands at the Frontline
The slaughtered eucalypts lay abandoned, broken and tumbled together as they had fallen. Twenty-four mature box trees up to 20 metres tall had been destroyed for no discernible reason. Elsewhere, a dozen large ironbarks lay uprooted and smashed for a minor roadwork, others again had been felled and left to rot in a drainage line.
These were depressing enough, but they were merely the punctuation marks in a woodland that seemed to have more stumps than living trees. The woodland, a small State Forest just out of Gunnedah, is being intensively managed for cypress-pine timber production, with the attendant maze of logging tracks, timber debris and log dumps.
The treatment of the box and ironbark reflects the lack of commercial value and hence concern for most of the remnant ironbarks and box in the Central West forests.
Sadly, the forest managers appear ignorant of their enormous value for nature conservation and the protection of biodiversity. The ironbarks in particular provide the critical shelter hollows for so much of the forest wildlife including parrots, bats, owls, gliders and lizards, as well as providing nectar from their extended and prolific flowering.
Ironically, the ironbarks of the Central West woodlands are now under great threat because of a new commercial use identified for them. The New England Tableland woodlands are also threatened by extraction of New England blackbutt, silvertop stringybark and messmate for the same purpose.
The NSW Government is seriously considering a plan by a Western Australian mining company to log and burn 160,000 tonnes a year of ironbarks and other selected eucalypt species from the western woodlands.
These trees will be used to make charcoal to feed to a silicon smelter at Lithgow (see NPJ August 1999). NPA considers this proposal to be completely irresponsible, akin to hunting whales or woodchipping old growth forests. But at this stage we cannot even get an assurance from the government that a full environmental impact assessment will be made.
The proposal is being fasttracked by a special unit within the Premier's own Department, so strong is the attraction of new jobs at Lithgow, a depressed industrial town in the heart of an ALP marginal rural seat. Yet this is also a government which has encouraged rural landholders to preserve and enhance remnant woodlands on their properties, and has introduced legislation to protect native vegetation. Indeed, in the New England Tablelands alone there are hundreds of people who are helping to establish wildlife corridors and other measures to protect the woodlands and their biodiversity.
These people will quickly understand the hypocrisy of the Government's position. This proposal attacks the very heart of biodiversity in western NSW, the islands of State forests in a sea of agriculture, whilst farmers work to connect these very refuges with a network of wildlife corridors. It also pre-empts the promised regional conservation assessment for the western forests and woodlands, which was to determine the extent and location of the conservation reserves, new national parks, which are needed for the long-term protection of nature in the west.
The South Coast forests need your help NOW - please see the enclosed "Wonderland" brochure.
N PA is facing some significant challenges in seeking to promote the cause of national parks and nature conservation in the new millenium. We have a State Government which is complacent with its large majority. Staff in the office of the "green" Premier are working on projects which are a serious threat to biodiversity in western New South Wales.
The restructuring of the National Parks and Wildlife Service is likely to reduce the capability of the Service to achieve best-practice management of our national parks and nature reserves. The parks are also under threat from user groups who conveniently ignore their impact on the park landscape and natural values.
NPA State Council has elected a new Executive team to meet these challenges. We are working to build membership in the Association and to expand the range of member activities and benefits. We are also working to protect national parks throughout the State, and to protect the poorly reserved regions in western New South Wales.
The Association has been fortunate that the support and involvement of members has helped it make conservation gains in past years. We need to ensure that our work continues to contribute to the protection of the NSW landscape.
4 OCTOBER 1999
JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!
We have some challenging honorary jobs. Flexible hours, great job satisfaction and as many cups of tea as you like!
If you are interested please call Noel Plumb any time on 9233 4660.
Membership - Hands up for benefits
NPA will be providing its members with additional benefits through the issue of a membership card in November. The card will entitle the member to discounts from a variety of shops and services. If you have any bright ideas about who could supply discounts (such as yourself, or an organisation you work for), please phone Michelle on 02 9233 4660, or fax 9233 4880, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Michelle Johnston, Membership Officer
A new Executive of State Council was elected at the Annual General Meeting on 7 August: President Roger Lembit; Senior Vice-President - Stephen Lord; Junior Vice-President - Anne Reeves; Secretary - Brian Everingham; others: Beth Michie, Mike Thompson, Pip Walsh, Vivien Clayphan-Dunne, Tom Fink. We will tell you more about them in the next issue.
Wanted - a creative artist NPA would like a design for a cloth badge that can be sewn on a backpack or shirt. It can be any regular shape, and should not be larger than 75 mm (or 3") across. The idea is to promote NPA, so the badge should display "National Parks Association of NSW Inc". The Executive of State Council will be the selection panel. Your reward will be seeing your design on the backpacks of your friends! So let your imagination go and send us your ideas, by 1 January 2000. Please send your entry to John Clarke, NPA, PO Box A96, Sydney South 1235.
Calling all trades
NPA Head Office is moving to another city location in December and we need help from carpenters, builders, electricians. Light work for no pay, but great job satisfaction. Ring 9233 4660 today!
OCTOBER 1999 5
A shrimp by any
other name ...
PHOTO NO 2 EXPAND BY 3.25 Mantis shrimp, Erugosquilla grahami Photo: Shane Ahyong/Nature Focus 6 OCTOBER 1999
A recent find by Shane Ahyong (a member of the Department of Marine Invertebrates at the Australian Museum), highlights just how little we know about our marine life, even within the waters of Sydney Harbour. Erugosquilla grahami, a large predatory mantis shrimp found in the waters east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, has only recently been named scientifically, although Shane suggests that this shrimp has probably turned up at the fish markets and been confused with a related species, Oratosquilla. The find also exemplifies our ignorance about invertebrates in general.
Erugosquilla grahami, named by Shane in honour of Ken Grahame at NSW Fisheries, belongs to the order Stomatopoda and is part of the family Squillidae. There are approximately 500 species of mantis shrimp worldwide, with about 130 species found in Australian waters (such as Odontodactylus scyllarus, pictured on the front cover, whose habitat ranges through the Indo-Pacific including Australia). It was previously thought that only three species inhabited Sydney Harbour, however, Shane's research has uncovered at least twelve species of mantis shrimp there.
This particular species of mantis shrimp grows to approximately 20 cm, although other species of stomatopods can grow up to 40 cm. A bottom dweller, it looks like a cross between a praying mantis and a lobster, and is distinctively coloured purple and blue with banded antennae.
Feeding on other shrimp and fish, Erugosquilla grahami has the ability to impale its prey in 5-8 milliseconds, and is claimed to be one of the fastest moving predators on earth. It has a specialised eye structure with each eye capable of binocular vision. Such specialised eyes suggest that they also have highly specialised brains and nervous systems, in order to be able to process all that information. Such eye complexity is seen in no other invertebrate. There are plans for further research on this species for neurological and behavioural studies.
Marine life and the threats it faces With most Australians living on or close to the coast, our coastal and marine environments are highly sensitive to the effects of pollution and development.
Threats to these communities include habitat loss and degradation, trawling, harvesting and introduced species, amongst others.
Sydney Harbour is a major estuary and the land which surrounds it has been extensively modified by development. Activities surrounding the Harbour can lead to severe environmental degradation within the Harbour itself.
On the night of 2 August, 1999, Sydney Harbour fell victim to an oil spill from the Italian ship, Laura D'Amato. As it was being unloaded at the Shell Refining Terminal at Greenwich (Gore Bay Terminal), 80,000 litres of light crude oil was spilt into the Harbour.
Oil spills will affect individual marine species differently. Depending on their form and chemistry, oil spills can cause a range of physiological and toxic effects. Crude oil can stick to the feathers, fur and skin of marine species, as happened with the penguins in Sydney Harbour. Sea birds, including penguins, are particularly sensitive to both internal and external affects of crude oil and its refined products. Contact with crude oil causes feathers to collapse and matt, changing the insulation properties of feathers and down which can then lead to hypothermia. Body weight can decrease, skin can become irritated, foraging instincts inhibited and poisoning can occur (Australian Maritime Safety Authority, 1998).
But what about mantis shrimp? The public would not be so aware of the effects of the recent oil spill in Sydney on marine invertebrates: the effects are not as immediately noticeable as that seen with the penguins.
Mantis shrimp are near the top of the food chain in the benthos (flora and fauna found at the sea bottom), and hence are adversely affected by pollution in the Harbour, including oil spills.
Volatile organic compounds are slowly released from the crude oil, which can cause damage to plankton, including the planktonic larval stage of mantis shrimp. These organics are directly absorbed by the shrimp across their gills and membranes, and ingested via their food sources. They biologically accumulate through the food chain, the highest concentrations being found in the prey of mantis shrimp.
However, by far the biggest threat to mantis shrimp is trawling. These shrimp are victims of bycatch as fisherman target prawns, crabs and squid.
Protection of the marine environment Current attention to the protection of the marine environment pales in comparison to that afforded our terrestrial environments. Historically, marine protected areas - specifically protected rather than being a mere extension of coastal protected areas - have been declared under fisheries legislation (Australian Committee for IUCN, 1994). These were generally small, discrete areas, and commonly the same restrictions as those placed on land-based national parks were applied.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 represented a break from this pattern, and allowed for the establishment of the world's largest marine protected area, the Great Barrier Reef. A holistic approach to marine conservation was finally adopted. In NSW the Marine Parks Act 1997 established the Marine Parks Authority to manage marine parks in NSW. Some marine parks have now been established in areas recognised for their unique characteristics and are consequently protected from activities which damage the marine environment. Zoning plans prepared for each park protect biodiversity and resource use within the park.
Following that Act, legislation that provides for the protection of all threatened fish and marine plants native to NSW waters was passed in 1997, coming into effect in July 1998. Threatened species provisions were included in amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FMA), and resultant changes in the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979 integrated consideration of threatened fish and marine plant conservation into the planning and assessment process.
The threatened species provisions of the FMA allow for the listing of threatened species, populations and ecological communities; however, to date this list remains small with only six species listed as either endangered (three species) or vulnerable (three species). This may seem positive, but the lack of information available about our marine ecosystems means we do not know enough to determine how safe or out of danger our marine species really are.
Recently, the Endangered Species Advisory Committee, appointed by the Federal Minister for the Environment, sought advice from government agencies, museums, universities and other relevant societies and individuals about marine species, specifically non-commercial invertebrates and plants. A summary of those submissions (Environment Australia, 1998) emphasises our lack of knowledge.
The abundance and diversity of our marine biota, coupled with our limited knowledge of the processes which affect it, are highlighted as a concern. The summary notes the importance of increasing our systematic assessment of marine biota, requiring increased survey, taxonomic description and research work.
Some of the respondents argued that it is more realistic to protect particular habitats and ecosystems than to look at marine conservation at a species-by-species level. Nonetheless, others argued that there is an urgent need for an increased knowledge of marine biota at the species level, since changes in systems cannot be assessed without good baseline information at the species level.
The find by Shane Ahyong in Sydney Harbour of a large shrimp previously unnamed adds weight to the argument that we know very little about our marine environment, particularly invertebrates. It also provides an insight into the diversity of marine life that lives on our foreshores. Despite the threats faced by our Harbour, it is encouraging to learn that it hosts such a variety of life.
* Kristi MacDonald has a BSc (Hons) from the University of NSW, and is NPA's Administrative Officer. Shane Ahyong's assistance with the writing of this article is gratefully acknowledged.
Environment News & Action
Parks service budget and restructure
In June, I reported that the NPWS budget had been maintained, and even increased for specific items, despite pressure from the Treasury to cut funds for the NPWS (NPWS at the Frontline, p 3). We thought that we had been successful in this debate in view of the commitment made by the Government before the election that the NPWS budget would not be reduced.
We are now dismayed to find that the present NPWS restructuring is being driven by a desire to find so-called `efficiency' savings to impress the Treasury. We have been told that the savings may not go back to Treasury but be applied for other priorities within the NPWS, if Treasury agrees.
This is not good enough - it leaves the NPWS resources and priorities at the mercy of Treasury, and effectively negates the Government's election promise. The NPWS cannot afford to lose ANY funds, and any reordering of budget priorities has to be the decision of the Minister for the Environment, Bob Debus, not a bean counter in Treasury or in the Premier's Department.
The NPWS restructure is also being driven by a theoretical model which will weaken the park management and nature conservation arm of the Service. It strips support services from districts and sub-districts and it seeks cost savings of $3million a year from districts. It throws away the hardwon community relations gains in rural areas over the past five years from programs for pest animal and weed control, fire management and neighbour relations, driven by district managers. District managers, and their relations with rural communities, are to be abolished for new, more remote regional managers in new `super districts' whose job requires a focus on business development. The research capacity of the NPWS may be handed over to State Forests and other resource agencies.
NPA has protested, and will continue to protest, at these and other potentially negative impacts of the restructure. We hope that the Minister and the Director-General and their advisers are listening.
Walk against woodchips
Join a peaceful protest against the destruction of our native forests!
Walk and bus from Sydney to Eden for a finale on 10 October at the Daishowa woodchip mill. The walk begins on 2 October and you can join us at the chip mill, or anywhere on the way as a daywalker. For more information ring Margaret Barnes on 0414 489 035; or Therese Elliott on 9279 2855.
Biodvidersity Act conference The National Environmental Defender's Office Network is holding a one-day conference about the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. A major focus will be who can and ought to regulate environmental matters. It will also look at whether the Act reflects an appropriate division of powers between the Commonwealth and States. The conference will be held in Sydney on 14 October. To find out more, ring the EDO on 02 9262 6989 or e-mail email@example.com
Plant conservation The Australian Network for Plant Conservation is holding its fourth national conference from 25-29 November in Albury. Its main aims will be to bring information to conservation practitioners; to promote best practice; and to form partnerships between community, industry and government. Please contact Countrywide Conference Management, ph 02 6040 1064 or see http://www.anbg.gov.au/anpc/4thconf.html
Mona Vale link threat
NPA has been concerned for many years to protect the bushland corridor on Mona Vale Road ridge at Terrey Hills, near the St Ives Showground. This ridge dominates much of northern Sydney and is of immense landscape and aesthetic importance. It is also of very high conservation value, as it includes bushland which provides the only link between the Ku-ringgai Chase and Garigal national parks. The link is critical for biodiversity and provides a corridor for birds, bats, winged insects, pollen and seed; in time, solutions will be found to provide wildlife access under Mona Vale Road, which presently divides the land.
Unfortunately, this link - the best bush - is now to be sold at auction by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. The site is former Crown Land which was granted to the Land Council under a land claim in 1988. The land is advertised as ideal for plant nursery, hospital or residential units these and other allowable uses would effectively destroy the bush.
I have addressed a community rally, called by the local MP, of over 300 people opposed to the sale; and NPA has asked the Minister for the Environment to acquire the land to protect it from development. The Minister has agreed that the site has regionally significant conservation values and has initiated discussions with the Land Council for a land swap.
He has received requests from many individuals, conservation groups and catchment committees to purchase the land.
Nominations for Advisory Committee membership will be invited by the NPWS around early October. We would like to have the chance to endorse your nomination.
Please follow the procedures outlined in the item in "NPA Matters" in the August Journal; or ring the NPA Office on 02 9233 4660.
News from the NPWS
Bridge to the past restored
Amidst the rugged sandstone cliffs near Gosford on the Central Coast, the NPWS has joined with archaeologists and stonemasons to reconstruct convict history along the Great North Road.
Under the NSW Government's Heritage Asset Management Program, Clare's Bridge, the secondoldest sandstone bridge on the Australian mainland, is being restored to its original glory. Built in 1832 using convict labour, the bridge is a prime example of the engineering feats undertaken by early roadbuilders in their quest to push development from Sydney into the Hunter Valley.
NPWS Central Coast Area Manager Tony Horwood said the works are part of a commitment by NPWS to heritage preservation across NSW. "Piecing together the history of the bridge and determining the most appropriate reconstruction techniques is a difficult process, but one which the entire team has been relishing," Mr Horwood said.
The project involves the restoration of the southern abutment of the bridge, which collapsed in the early 1960s. A number of stone blocks missing from the original wall are being replaced with sandstone hewn from local materials.
"Wherever possible, we have been ensuring that the original material is retained and used in the reconstruction. Authenticity is a very important issue in the conservation of the bridge," Mr Horwood said. In keeping with its important links to Australia's colonial past, Clare's Bridge is included on the State Heritage Inventory.
More information about the Great North Road, of which Clare's Bridge is a part, and adjoining Dharug National Park, can be obtained from the NPWS Central Coast office on 02 4324 4911.
Minister for the Environment
Having held the electorate of the Blue Mountains for 12 years, I came to the environment portfolio in April this year with a long-standing personal and professional interest in conservation. Over the months since, I have gained a closer understanding of the challenges of environmental management across NSW, as well as the importance of an integrated approach if these challenges are to be met.
Within the environment portfolio, the Minister has responsibility for the Environment Protection Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Sydney Catchment Authority, the Healthy Rivers Commission, the Zoos, Parks and Trusts. Each of these agencies have played a role in the massive environmental reform undertaken by the Carr Government over its first term. This reform saw the introduction of a suite of new legislative powers, as well as a 25 per cent increase in the National Parks and Wildlife Service estate.
Ms Carmel Tebbutt has been appointed as Minister Assisting the Minister for the Environment, with a broad range of responsibilities incorporating the full range of the portfolio.
I see this term as a period of consultation, and a time to tackle some of the harder, longer term problems that face our community.
Although I have a broad interest in the environment, I would like to see progress on two issues in particular: dryland salinity, and greater protection for bioregions in western NSW.
Dryland salinity is a vital environmental issue that will require long-term strategies to combat a problem created over many years.
Responding to this problem means finding ways to tackle the immediate impacts, as well as safeguarding against any future damage.
The Government is already dealing with some of the issues through its broader water reforms. Projects bringing together government agencies, the community and industry are also being undertaken, for example an Environment Protection Authority program to control discharges of salinity to the Hunter River from mines in the area.
The past four years have seen an increase in forest reserves of 600,000 hectares on the North Coast and the Eden region. Over the next four years, however, I will focus on achieving greater protection in western NSW which, compared to eastern NSW, has little land formally protected as national parks and reserves. The NPWS is currently undertaking bioregion assessments, as part of the NSW Biodiversity Strategy. Assessments already finished reveal an environment rich in both natural and cultural heritage.
Bob Debus Minister for the Environment
Waterways - logging, boating & damming:
"We will meet them on the beaches ..."
Relaxing beside the water within a national park is special, treasured among the memories of many who enjoy nature and those peaceful moments with friends and family. Fossicking around among the rock pools, listening to the water whilst boiling up a brew, or enjoying a glass. Watching the kids playing safely in the shallows. Going for a long swim, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Drowsing on the beach after a long walk.
Until recently, you could go to a number of estuaries, rivers or lakes and at least pretend that you had escaped from the pressures of industrial society. But these experiences are undergoing a transformation, wrought largely by technologies that were not envisaged when the rules governing national parks were formed.
The commons we share within national parks include the opportunities to escape from the presence of machines. Being able to hear the lapping of the water, the call of the bird or the symphony of the wind through the she-oaks is part of the magic. So too is swimming in water without the taint of oil, and with no need to look out for speed boats. Another facet is being in harmony with the place, and knowing that those others who share that place also share the values that make it so special. Protecting these fragile commons from those who would carelessly destroy them has been a driving force behind the powerful opposition to machine activities like the use of trail bikes, or 4WD vehicles.
Drawbacks of boating What I am about to say could be misinterpreted as criticising those who use boats. That is not the case.
Far and away the majority of boat users who will be reading this article share the same values and exhibit the same environmental sensitivity as the majority of those who walk into a national park, and leave only their footprints. But machine-enabled access not only makes access easier (increasing user numbers), it brings with it inherently non-natural characteristics. It also is democratic, allowing the uncaring the same ease of access as those who do care. And it empowers those who do not care with far more power to do harm than they would have under their own steam. The call I make is to face up to the new challenges, not to victimise responsible boat users (who, from my experience, express exactly the same concerns as I am raising here).
So, that having been said, on with the discussion.
Parks with substantial bodies of water now face a new challenge in the march of machine use, not from the land, but from the water. In the much-loved Royal National Park, for example, we now see this new pressure in issues like: Once quiet areas such as Bonnie Vale, in the past mainly used by families for picnics and swimming, are now for many weeks of the year dominated by the sound and fury of jetskis whizzing across Simpson's Bay, the operators often beaching them onto the sand of the foreshore at speed. There have been serious incidents as a result of this new hazard, and the previously safe swimming areas are now less welcoming for those who are not confident enough to brave the high-speed jetskis.
Seagrass beds, the nurseries for much of the valued biodiversity of the waterways, are being physically challenged. The Posidonia beds of the east coast are noted as being important habitats, now in decline and not given to regrowth. Aerial photographs show circles gouged out of these beds in the Hacking River by anchor chains and moorings, as boat users seek to anchor close to the shoreline of the Royal.
Groups of cruisers are now common in South West Arm, rafting up for days and, as a side effect, discharging sewage through the hull into a national park waterway. Even ignoring the contested question of long-term impacts, few national park users would expect to wade through sewage on the foreshores of the Royal, particularly without any warning as to its presence.
The Basin is one of the truly magical places in the Royal. Wetland habitat with a mixing of fresh and salt water. Birds of all kinds and beautiful clear water.
Perfect for a quiet walk or some hours of birdwatching. That is, at least, until the local jetski user or group in a `tinnie' decide to have a look. Then see the birds scatter, flushed from their nests by the noise. And then flushed again with the next rush - all day. Then smell the oil in the water, and you have to wonder how consistent this all is with the concept of respecting nature, intrinsic to the concept of the national park.
These pressures of technology and numbers are being compounded by the promotion of increased boating facilities within, or adjacent to, national parks, without any comprehensive consideration of the impacts or the management issues that ought be considered. Again taking the Royal as an example, we can see the next generation of problems being seeded by today's actions: The beach at Jibbon is soon to see a substantial increase in moorings put down by the NSW Waterways Authority, without evaluation of the impacts on the park and the park values. Will this add to these pressures? Should the promotion of boating access be accompanied by other management actions to protect the park values, or the amenity for non-boat users? Neither the NPWS, nor Waterways, seem to be engaging in any careful consideration of these issues.
Illegal moorings have been dropped into national park areas, to facilitate cruisers rafting up. These having been removed, the same boating interests are now using political pressure and legal arguments to force NPWS to accede to their demands (at the same time refusing to even consider a rule to prevent sewage from boats being discharged into the waters of the Hacking).
A new boat ramp has been proposed for the Bonnie Vale picnic area, over NPWS and NPA objections.
This argument is ongoing, with some boating interests seeking to appropriate national park areas and scarce financial resources.
I have illustrated all these issues with examples from the Royal, because that is the national park that I know best. But I also know from other areas that these are not isolated incidents. I know that similar issues are emerging in most estuarine parks, and in many inland parks where there are significant bodies of water. There are many other issues that I could highlight - the failure of the policing authorities to enforce existing rules; the jurisdictional chaos that plagues the intersection between land and water (and between NPWS, Department of Land and Water Conservation, Fisheries, Waterways and local councils); the disgraceful behaviour that is exhibited by a minority of boat users.
But the point is, I think, made. New boating technologies and growing user numbers are creating new challenges for national parks, and new management solutions are needed before these problems get totally out of hand.
The national park common that is being rapidly eroded is the opportunity for peaceful, low-impact appreciation of the waterways in a natural state. It encompasses not only the biodiversity or aesthetic values of the national parks; it also includes the values that the users of the parks generally share, that place such importance on respect for nature and our land.
The importance of what could be lost if the waterways within or on the boundaries of national parks remain abandoned to water-based machines cannot be overvalued. If we want to be able to offer the same special experiences to our children, we will have to do something about it. The price of peace (even in national parks) is always vigilance.
Policy and action So what needs to happen?
Minimally, the government has to take on a responsibility for actually managing these issues, in some sort of integrated, values-based way. To date, bureaucratic turf wars and a degree of confusion have been more of a frustration than a threat to national park waterways. But that time has now passed. If the government does not take on the challenge then we who love national parks will find the waterside experience in every major national park waterway degraded and debased. Solutions are possible, with relatively little effort, and indeed in line with previous policy announcements of the NSW Government.
Regardless of whether the authority is Fisheries, or NPWS, or some other agency, national park values need to encompass the adjacent or enclosed waters, to protect those values. More marine reserves are needed. A mistake we ought not to repeat is to create reserves only for the untainted jewels of the waterway, (viz. Marine and Estuarine Protected Areas under World Conservation Union rules). We need management reserves as much to protect the values of the terrestrial parks as to protect biodiversity within the waters, and we should be willing to create innovative solutions to these complex management problems.
We also need to be serious about how we deal with the management issues that go with boating infrastructure on or near national parks. Whilst such demands are no less (or more) legitimate than the demands of other users of parks for improved facilities, any such facilities should be considered only within well-developed management frameworks that reduce the erosion of the commons. Such management plans will have to be negotiated with boating and fishery authorities and with clear compliance requirements and measures of effectiveness. Without this, improved facilities will only lead to erosion of park values.
Finally, strong enforcement of noise, safety and pollution controls on the waterways is essential. It is not only NPWS that is under-resourced for its role. It is relatively easy for other policing authorities (notably Waterways) to redirect their scarce resources away from protecting park values, towards other more pressing needs.
None of this change will happen, of course, without the users of the national parks making their needs powerfully felt in the corridors of power. There is apparently some rethinking of some of the issues raised in this article going on within some government agencies, largely as a result of changes in ministers after the NSW election. Sadly, the impact of waterway issues on national park values is not one of the agenda items.
Perhaps it is time that the members of NPA made it clear that it ought to be?
* Brian Everingham is NPA Secretary.
OCTOBER 1999 11
I t's a rare month on the South Coast of NSW when the media do not present us with yet another report of a wetland in crisis - "Lake crisis: call for dredging", "Fish die in Kianga Lake", "Bird's paradise today, 3,000-home subdivision tomorrow", and so it goes, on and on and on.
Wetland is a general term for swamps, billabongs, lakes, saltmarshes, mudflats and mangroves, simply areas that have acquired special characteristics from being wet on a regular or semi-regular basis. Since the arrival of Europeans we have dug up, filled in, drained, interfered with, poured, seeped and dumped into our wetlands such a vast range and quantity of pollutants that many have given up the fight for survival. Finally we are being forced to wallow in and eat the results of our ignorance, greed and short sightedness.
Unfortunately the poor management of wetlands has been widespread and in some regions the results of ecological breakdown far more newsworthy and devastating than anything so far experienced on the South Coast. The recent Wallis Lake incident - where one died and many were hospitalised from eating shellfish marinated in sewage - has frightened local councils into action, knowing they may be liable for allowing known polluting processes to continue.
One lake on the South Coast, Durras Lake, just north of Batemans Bay, has for the most part escaped the ravages of development. Most of its catchment is undeveloped and forested. Once Durras Lake would have been nothing special, just one of the hundreds of pristine lakes and lagoons that dotted the NSW coast. But today it is regarded as the best of its kind in the State, a glimpse of what a large coastal waterway would have looked like before the arrival of Europeans. The NSW Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has chosen Durras Lake as the site of a major new study to understand what a near-pristine coastal waterway is like. The findings of this study will allow the EPA to give advice on how developments near other coastal wetlands will affect them.
An ever changing environment Durras Lake is a permanent, intermittently opening and closing, barrier, estuarine lake. That mouthful refers to one of the special characteristics of Durras Lake: that it is formed behind a barrier of sand dunes which at times completely cut the lake off from the sea. At other times, the barrier is breached by a combination of big seas and tides and high freshwater input from the catchment. Then the tide flows in and out until the sand barrier re-builds and cuts the lake off from the sea once more.
Estuarine flora and fauna are, by necessity, remarkably adaptable to these ever changing environmental conditions. Salinity and water-level fluctuations vary dramatically. For some fish, the salinity level in the lake is too high for breeding. They head up into the freshwater creeks when the time comes for them to spawn and return to the saline lake to grow and develop.
Flora are also affected by changing conditions of salinity and fluctuating water levels. At times the Casuarina glauca which line the shore have their feet in saline water, while for other prolonged periods they are left high and dry. Similarly the saltmarsh communities are at times inundated, then left uncovered, exposed to the sun and wind. These natural processes have been going on for centuries.
It is the recent `unnatural' inputs which have had devastating impacts on our wetlands. These include development for housing or farming, which inevitably result in higher than normal nutrient and heavy-metal levels from runoff, sewage and fertiliser and consequent changes to aquatic vegetation. Vegetation clearing, logging and roadworks often allow large quantities of sediment to be carried into wetlands, smothering aquatic vegetation and increasing turbidity. Increased sedimentation has been the demise of seagrass beds throughout NSW. Many major estuaries have lost up to 80% of their seagrass beds in the past 30-40 years. Lake Macquarie, for example, has lost 44% of its seagrass, the Clarence River 90%, due to increased turbidity and a general decline in water quality.
Durras Lake faces significant threats. In 1985, 504 hectares along 5 kilometres of the Durras Lake shore was rezoned for urban development. The Durras community saw the threat that was posed to Durras Lake and the Friends of Durras (FOD) was formed, aiming to buy the designated development block. Despite a $1 million price tag, FOD were persistent lobbyists and fundraisers until in 1993 they presented the NSW Government with $113,000. The land was bought and added to Murramarang National Park, but other development pressures must be constantly resisted.
The other major threat is from logging of the catchment, 76% of which is managed by State Forests. The native forest logging industry has a clear agenda to intensify logging , and State Forests is under pressure to supply woodchips from the south coast to the Eden mill. FOD has severely constrained logging operations around Durras Lake in recent years, demanding that the catchment be protected. State Forests does not even properly manage its abandoned, eroding forestry roads, which carry sediment to the lake.
When ignorance is not bliss One of the major factors that has threatened lakes and wetlands is ignorance. Ignorance of the benefits a wetland has when managed in its natural state, and ignorance of what environmental disasters may take place once a wetland is removed or badly degraded.
Estuarine wetlands are recognised as the productive engines that drive inshore fishing. Some two-thirds of commercially and recreationally valuable fish spend at least some part of their lifecycle in an estuary. The fishing and tourism industry, indeed the whole community, are paying the price of poor management and so too is the economy.
We are learning; but even despite the hard evidence of scientific studies and in-your-face disasters like Wallis Lake, we continue, too often, to learn the hard way. We can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. There is a wealth of information upon which to make good management decisions and put an end to the ignorant mistakes of the past.
Durras Lake is the heart of the Greater Murramarang National Park, one of the wonderland forest areas of the south coast. This proposal - to create an expanded Murramarang National Park has been presented to Premier Carr by FOD and NPA (Milton Branch). His Government will decide by the end of this year whether to protect the Durras Lake catchment or continue to allow it to be logged. The choices appear clear cut apply the precautionary principle and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy, as we have, Durras Lake and the fruits it delivers; or continue logging for small economic gain and run the real risk of turning yet another pristine wetland into an unproductive quagmire, a bottomless wet hole into which endless rehabilitation money will need to be thrown.
You can help those who may find this decision difficult to make by writing to: The Hon Bob Carr, Premier of NSW, Parliament House, Sydney 2000 asking him to protect Durras Lake and its catchment by creating the Greater Murramarang National Park. The park proposal is on-line at: http://www.morning.com.au/go/fod/ For further information please contact Geoffrey Bartram, phone 02 6281 6434 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Geoffrey Bartram is a NPA member; co-ordinator of the Friends of Durras; and a conservation representative on the Environment and Heritage Committee for the Southern Regional Forest Assessment.
JOHN PENKINS Canoeist on Durras Lake PHOTO NO 3 CROP AS MARKED REDUCE BY 22% PHOTO NO 4 EXPAND TO 255% Pelican on Durras Lake GEOFFREY BARTRAM 12 OCTOBER 1999
PHOTO NO 5 CROP AS MARKED SAME SIZE Spotted gum/burrawang forest, typical of the Durras Lake catchment GEOFFREY BARTRAM
OCTOBER 1999 13
H umanity's dominance over the world's large rivers is a very recent thing. Hoover Dam on the Colorado ushered in the era of big dams in 1936. In the three-score years and three since, over 40,000 large dams have been thrown up across - almost without exception - every major river in the world. That's one every 14 hours. China has about half of the world's large dams, the USA about 5500, the CIS about 3000, Japan 2300 and India 1100. Australia has 409.
Russian writer Maxim Gorky said dams `make rivers sane'. The environmental, social and economic impacts of flow regulation in the past half century, however, show that the pursuit of bigger and bigger dams by engineering focused bureaucracies and construction companies has been insane.
Reservoirs worldwide have submerged over 400,000 square kilometres, or six Tasmanias, of river valleys and their diverse ecosystems. Many rivers are little more than staircases of lakes now, and completely unsuitable for many riverine species. Fisheries biologists have a rule of thumb that fish biodiversity in dammed tropical rivers is only 20-40% of that of the free-flowing river.
The 130 or so dams in the Columbia River Basin (USA) have decimated runs of wild salmon, with numbers plummeting from 10-16 million to under 1 million each year; from 1960-1980, the cost to fisheries is estimated at US$6.5 billion. Diverting flow for irrigation from the highly controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in India is predicted to decimate the healthiest fishery left in India. Similarly, the partially built Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, which will be the world's largest dam if completed, is likely to be the nail in the coffin for the last couple of hundred endangered Yangtze River dolphins.
Dams are not the only means of regulating rivers.
The Pantanal in south-west Brazil, the world's largest wetlands, will shrink if the infamous Hydrovia River channelisation project is completed. Straightening bends of the Parana and Paraguay rivers, and blasting rocks to permit passage of ocean-going ships, will reduce the duration of flooding of this magnificent savanah woodland, increase channel erosion and produce more destructive floods downstream. The Pantanal - home to many threatened species such as the giant otter, jaguar and beautiful hyacinth macaw is predicted to constrict by at least 10%.
Wherever rivers cross national boundaries conflicts over water sharing arise, with the environment often overlooked. Floods that eighty years ago fed the Colorado delta wilderness in Mexico now water lawns in Las Vegas and cotton in the desert.
The Kavango River descends from the Angolan Highlands, traverses semi-arid Namibia and throws its floodwaters out across the dry Kalahari in Botswana, forming the `Last Eden of Africa', the Okavango Delta.
Namibia plans to pipe 20-120 million cubic metres of water from the Kavango, just before it crosses into Botswana, to its capital Windhoek 250 km away. As with the Colorado, diversions of such magnitude would significantly reduce wetland area and impact upon the Delta's magnificent wildlife, particularly in dry years when the Namibians would want the water most.
Turkey's South East Anatolia Project plans scores of dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers for hydropower and irrigation, the biggest of which is the Ilisu Dam 65 km upstream of the Syrian and Iraq border. Even without Ilisu, the three countries collectively lay claim to 55% and 12% more than average annual flows in the rivers, respectively. If completed, Ilisu will take one and a half years to fill and be able to stop all flows to the downstream countries for several months. Sedimentation will be rapid - the dam's life expectancy is just 80-100 years.
How is it that in less than a person's lifetime an ecological disaster of such global proportions could have been perpetrated on the very rivers that sustain our existence? By sacrificing commonsense in the pursuit of engineering solutions and ignoring ecological advice, the long-term impacts of river regulation have been ignored.
Anti-dam campaigns throughout the world in the last two decades have made governments seek ecologically benign ways of harvesting water and supplying hydropower. The World Commission on Dams, a joint attempt by pro- and anti-dam interests to resolve dam conflicts, has the backing of such disparate groups as the World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and dam builders.
Dams are also starting to come down - about a dozen in the US and a couple in France so far, mainly to restore endangered salmon fisheries and protect indigenous fishing rights. Socio-economic analyses showed it was cheaper to remove some of these structures than to maintain them, a highly ironic outcome given the economic rationalist paradigm that prevailed when such dams were built.
By the same argument, the time for carefully considering the removal of weirs and dams in the highly degraded Murray-Darling Basin has arrived.
Over 15m high.
* Dr Stuart Blanch is Coordinator of the Inland Rivers Network (ph 02 9241 6267, e-mail email@example.com). IRN is a network of conservation groups and individuals, including NPA, with a focus on inland rivers and wetlands of NSW.
14 OCTOBER 1999
to stop peat mining
The long-term benefits of protecting peatlands outweigh the short-term monetary gains acquired for peat products and the possible costs from damage associated with the depletion of the limited peat resource.
W hen you consider (1) the significant conservation values of peatlands, (2) the destructive environmental impacts of peat mining, and (3) that there are horticultural alternatives to peat, it begs the question: why does peat mining still occur? The economic arguments for mining peat are shaky, especially if indirect costs and loss or damage to nonconsumptive values are factored into the equation of real costs. And in the worst cases, the result of mining may involve environmental losses and costs to the government, ratepayers and broader community that far exceed any financial benefits that were gained by a relative few.
Wingecarribee Swamp is a prime example of where maintaining the natural values would have been more prudent in the longer term than the enormous costs now associated with environmental damage, water pollution and rehabilitation resulting from peat mining (see, for example, August NPJ).
And what of the heritage values on which we cannot place a price?
When will the rhetoric of `ecologically sustainable development' be effectively adopted and practised for the wise use of resources, environmental protection and better longer term economics?
An abbreviated case against peat mining, starting locally: Peatlands are rare in Australia.
Peatlands provide important natural functions in catchments.
The peatland ecosystem provides habitat for distinctive flora and fauna (including rare and unusual species and communities), and performs biological, chemical and physical processes. The ecological and hydrological functions of a peatland help maintain catchment stability and water quality through water regulation and filtration processes.
Peat deposits are an archive of environmental history. Each site contains a unique scientific record of past vegetation, climate and environmental processes. The study of past vegetation and climate provides insights into vegetation and plant dynamics, behaviour and responses to change that may help with understanding existing communities and their management.
Peat mining directly affects a living, dynamic wetland ecosystem where the peat/sediments, hydrology and biota are interconnected.
Interfering in any of these components can disrupt other parts of the system. For example, peat extraction causes hydrological changes, such as alterations in water-table levels, that affect ecological and biochemical processes in the wetland. The impacts of peat mining will not be restricted to the local or immediate area where the peat is being extracted, but will be felt in other parts of the wetland, with potential impacts in the broader catchment.
The long-term benefits of protecting peatlands need to be measured against the short-term gains of peat mining. It is often economically beneficial to maintain peatlands as naturally functioning wetlands in catchments, especially when environmental costs of mining are factored into the analyses.
The costs to rehabilitate or restore areas damaged by peat extraction may be greater than the short-term economic gains from mining peat. Peat mining can cause long-term or permanent environmental damage and losses (such as impacts on water quality), and greater monetary costs to repair damaged ecosystems and catchments. Threats to biodiversity, rare species and other heritage values must be considered.
The NSW Wetlands Management Policy (1996, page 5) states that the Government will adopt a common goal to guide decision making for wetlands: "The ecologically sustainable use, management and conservation of wetlands in NSW for the benefit of present and future generations". Peat mining is in direct conflict with this goal. It is not an ecologically sustainable industry; peat is effectively a nonrenewable resource (the rate of extraction far exceeds the renewal capacity of the resource at mining sites, that is if there is any natural regeneration of the peat after mining has altered and disrupted the ecosystem).
Exploitation may well go beyond the tolerance of the natural peatland system.
There is often inadequate knowledge about peatland habitats and the possible impacts of peat extraction. The assessment of mining proposals should take into account the precautionary principle.
There are now well-established alternatives to peat for all its horticultural uses. Using peat alternatives recycled from waste or byproducts can contribute to reducing waste disposal and pollution problems, as well as promote new green industries and associated economic benefits. You can help by using peat-free products in your garden, and informing your plant nursery and friends.
* Dr Phillip Kodela has investigated peatlands in various research and management projects.
OCTOBER 1999 15
Negotiating the pitfalls
D evastating impacts of mining on the environment and on local people have been documented worldwide. Whilst it is true that mining only disturbs a small fraction of the world's surface, it is also true that when its impact is upon certain critical points of the environment, the outcome can be catastrophic; these critical points often also involve the surface and subsurface hydrology of the area.
The Big Australian, BHP, has finally admitted liability for some of the disastrous consequences of the Ok Tedi Mine in New Guinea, where pollution of the Fly River has resulted in widespread damage to the river environment on which the local people depend. Among the groups highlighting the international concerns are the Bondibased Minerals Policy Institute, as well as Friends of the Earth (FoE) internationally along with many nationally based FoE groups.
Closer to home, the collapse of the ecologically significant Wingecarribee Swamp near Robertson during a flood was due to the zone of weakness created by peat mining, according to the three hydrology consultants who examined it. Acknowledged as a wetland of outstanding significance, it has featured in past National Park Journals and there is coverage on peat mining in this same edition (see opposite page). A year after the catastrophe, far too little has been achieved in the way of rehabilitation; and the successful court action brought by the Environment Protection Agency, against pollution from the mine prior to the collapse, leaves little chance of the $217,000 fine and $90,000 costs being paid - the company involved, Emerald Peat, has gone into voluntary liquidation. The question of Sydney Water's cleanup costs was stood over.
Over the years, this Journal has carried many references to the potential and actual adverse effects of mining ventures on natural areas. Within NSW alone these include: mineral-sand mining and its legacy of bitou bush as a dune coloniser; construction-sand extraction off Royal National Park; limestone from Colong Caves and at Yessabah; gold from Lake Cowal and Timbarra; long-wall coal mining in the Gardens of Stone and at Cataract.
Not all proposals have gone ahead. In some instances cost/ benefit analysis and/or public protest have led companies to withdraw. In other cases legal challenges have resulted in refusal, extensive modification to reduce impact, and even amendments to law and government policy. In WA, the Denmark Environment Centre had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to confirm their right to even be heard before their Mining Warden over sand-mining proposals in an excised portion of D'Entrecasteaux NP; while in SA there is the very imminent threat of legislation to allow mining in Yumbarra Conservation Park.
The mining industry is sensitive to public pressure, however, and has been active in the last few years in seeking to improve its image and practices. Perhaps led by the coal industry in the Hunter Region - where there has been strong and well-connected concern over the impacts on neighbours and their livelihood from the proliferating open-cut mines - there have been commendable moves to lift the game, for instance through promulgation of best practice and a code of ethics. However, implementation is voluntary, and dependent on peer and consumer pressure.
At Lake Cowal, approval for North's deep open-cut gold mine intruding into a section of the lake came after a second Commission of Inquiry was conducted to evaluate a revised proposal with lesser cyanide levels; power lines relocated away from bird flight paths; and other modifications. The initial development application was rejected as unacceptable by Premier Carr in a decision announced during the 1996 Brisbane Ramsar Convention meeting, fulfilling a promise to Milo Dunphy shortly before his death (see also NPJ August 1999).
In this, as in so many other ventures, the influential drivers for mine approval were the potential profits for the company itself and those who wanted to boost a local economy in decline. However, lateral thinkers in the company, the unions and the environment movement proposed exploring the possibility for common ground should the mine get the go-ahead.
This led to the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (NPA is one of the signatories) to establish an Environmental Trust, aimed at improving conservation management and protection of significant wetland values. This move is probably a first, reflecting a generational change of approach from the mining industry, and could serve as a pilot.
While no compensation for loss of wetland integrity, it nevertheless is intended to ensure some of the mining profits contribute to longterm environmental benefits alongside the economic ones. These include protection of important remaining wetland values, native vegetation and associated natural and Aboriginal heritage values around Lake Cowal; and potentially to help offset the threats of salinity, due to past clearing and changed water regimes associated with irrigation and dryland farming.
Many will be watching to see whether the hoped-for outcomes will be achieved over time as people, and possibly even mine ownership, change.
"Diversification" is the buzz word for those seeking to provide new and alternative incomes in regions of economic decline, and to most governments, local and State, a new mining proposal inevitably appeals. However, the short-term injection of new money and jobs carries a price tag. Infrastructure assistance, tax holidays and facilitated access to ancilliary approvals turn sour when the venture collapses, is mothballed or comes to an end. Employees and creditors may be left high and dry; and the ecology disrupted, with remote and protected areas forever changed, including by the expensive legacy of leachate pollution and subsidence. The Department of Mineral Resources has lifted its requirements concerning cradle-to-grave management planning requirements and bonds, but these require policing and may be insufficient to counteract unexpected outcomes.
Furthermore, it is not the mine alone that affects the environment: there may be the impacts of prospecting; of roads, powerlines and so on; perhaps newcomers into the region; the support services; the pets and recreational activities - all contribute to change.
All of us in the modern world are dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the products of mining. As resource demands increase along with human populations, there is ever greater pressure on our natural world and our precious protected areas. Reconciliation of protecting biological systems and natural heritage with demands for use is increasingly urgent. The World Commission on Protected Areas, one of several international commissions that operate under the wing of IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, now the World Conservation Union) has developed a Position Statement on Mining (see box), now formally noted as such by the WCU-IUCN Council in April 1999.
Since individual countries need to adapt these principles to local circumstances, it would be timely for the NSW Government to review mining legislation as a first step in tandem with careful review of the appropriateness of IUCN categories - with a view to ensuring better biodiversity conservation, rather than backsliding into multiple use at the expense of habitat integrity and ecosystem viability. NPA has already been involved in moving towards this, working with the Environmental Defender's Office to develop an extensive paper on the matter; meeting with decision makers; and assisting the Nature Conservation Council to develop policy as guidance for environment groups throughout the State.
* Anne Reeves is Vice President, and NPA's Lake Cowal MOU representative.
Extract from WCPA Position Statement Introduction This position statement is put forward as a global framework statement which recognises that clear rules are easier to understand and defend than ones which depend too much on interpretation. This position statement acknowledged the increasing application of "best practices" environmental approaches and lower impact technology within the mining industry as well as examples of support for conservation activities.
However, WCPA also notes that exploration and extraction of mineral resources can have serious long-term consequences on the environment. The guiding principle adopted in this statement is that any activity within a protected area has to be compatible with the overall objectives of the protected area.
[Point] 2. Exploration and extraction of mineral resources are incompatible with the purposes of protected areas corresponding to IUCN Protected Area Management Categories I to IV, and should therefore be prohibited by law or other effective means.
3. In Categories V and VI, exploration and minimal and localised extraction is acceptable only where this is compatible with the objectives of the protected area and then only after the assessment of environmental impact (EIA) and subject to strict operating, monitoring and after-use restoration conditions. This should apply "best practices" environmental approaches.
5. Proposed changes to the boundaries of protected areas, or to their categorisation, to allow operations for the exploration or extraction of mineral resources should be subject to procedures at least as rigorous as those involved in the establishment of the protected area in the first place. There should also be an assessment of the impact of the proposed change on the ability to meet the objectives of the protected area.
7.In recognising the important contribution the mining industry can play, opportunities for co-operation and partnership between the mining industry and protected area agencies should be strongly encouraged.
Collaboration with the mining industry should focus on securing respect and support for this position statement; broadening the application of best environmental practice for mining activity; and exploring areas of mutual benefit.
[The full text of the seven-point statement and this introduction is available from the NPA Office.]
OCTOBER 1999 17
Koongarra - Kakadu's sword of Damocles
T he map of Kakadu in the 1998 Visitor Guide shows three mineral areas in white. One, Ranger, has been mined for twenty years; Jabiluka has just got the green light; while the third, Koongarra, sits too quietly along the south side of Nourlangie Rock and Mount Brockman. This mineral lease is standing like a time bomb ready to be activated as soon as the present government feels the urge. Kakadu is an Endangered World Heritage Area while ever this situation exists.
Some history Opening of the Ranger Mine with its three massive pits was given the go-ahead by one of a package of four Federal Bills as a result of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (the Fox Report) in 1979 which: (a) returned certain lands to Aboriginal ownership; (b) established Stage 1 of Kakadu National Park excluding the three mining areas; (c) permitted the opening of Ranger mining operations; (d) established the Office of the Supervising Scientist (OSS) to monitor and regulate the "safe" operation of the Ranger uranium mining project.
The laboratory and functional centre of the OSS was established at Jabiru adjacent to the mine, a location crucial to a close supervisory function. It is now reported that this office and laboratory is to be removed to Darwin, 250 km away, where it can undertake other works in addition to its extra role of supervising Jabiluka.
As for Jabiluka, the recent story of its controversial approval is fairly well known. What is not generally known is that during research for the book Kakadu Man, it was discovered that the Jabiluka Environmental Impact Assessment was severely flawed with regard to its record of Aboriginal sites of significance within the mining area.
Pancontinental was warned that it would need to correct this.
Subsequently, the three authors received numerous phoned death threats; Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service (ANPWS) officers were intimidated and others severely compromised; the Aboriginal Ranger Training Officer was threatened with dismissal, and there was a threat of an injunction on the Service to keep him out of the park on the trumped-up excuse that he was `training Aborigines to dislike mining'; Service officers were 'used' in a conspiracy to destroy the credibility of one of the authors. These activities and more were industry generated (Energy Resources of Australia were not then involved with Jabiluka) and involved the most senior levels of ANPWS, a Brisbane QC, The Northern Land Council and of course the mining company. Some of this incredible story was reported by Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Clyde Holding, in his Second Reading speech to the Amendments to the NT Land Rights Act 1984 (see Hansard).
It is clear from the incentives behind these activities of the industry, the political chicanery and deceit - which ultimately saw the approval given to the Jabiluka mine as well as the loss of the UNESCO declaration of Kakadu as an Endangered World Heritage Area by the current Commonwealth Government - that cancellation of the Koongarra Project must be given top priority by those interested in maintaining the integrity of what is perhaps Kakadu's core park area, Nourlangie Rock and Mount Brockman.
Why be concerned?
Unlike the other two mines which lie on the very important though marginal Magela catchment, Koongarra lies on the mid-headwaters of Nourlangie Creek which is a major tributary of the South Alligator River, the central catchment of Kakadu. Any outbreak of tailings would seriously affect critical wetlands as well as the primary visitor area identified as that as far back as 1969. As the proposal is for the Koongarra Project to refine its own yellow cake on site, and to import reagents and to produce large amounts of acidic tailings to be held in a dammed valley, the Fox Report concluded: `seepage from this dam would probably also be acid, with a correspondingly high concentration of dissolved heavy metals. Thus any pollution from operations at Koongarra would be a potential threat to the very valuable wildlife of the Woolwonga Reserve. (Lower Nourlangie Creek area.) The proposal to build the tailings dam in a natural drainage system gives further grounds for concern, since it means that, over the long term, as the protective works deteriorated, the tailings would probably be subject to erosion'.
A heavy-duty road would be required to carry the thousands of tons of sulphuric acid, pyrolusite, lime and ammonia to the site from Darwin, while massive movements of ore would be removed from the open pit to the mill. Disturbance to public areas at Nourlangie and the stunningly beautiful and peaceful Gubara (Saratoga Dreaming site) rainforest, springs and pond area would be cataclysmic.
The Nourlangie Rock end of the project area is a place of exquisite beauty with many acres of intricately etched sandstone and geologically worked faults, fractures and joints, some faces filled with huge quartz crystal deposits, standing over a maze of gullies with clear green pools edged with rock ferns and meadows of golden bladderworts in the deep shade of ancient Allosyncarpia ternata.
The southern side of the outlier escarpment is an extremely important Aboriginal area with numerous burial sites and places of significance. As many nearby Aboriginal art sites and occupation areas have been provided by the local ARTWORK NO 1 CROP AS MARKED SAME SIZE Location of Koongarra Source: ANPWS Visitor Guide to Kakadu people for public interpretation, it is essential that these other important sites along the Koongarra Fault are preserved for the traditional owners' traditional purposes.
Mining has no place in these environments of much higher human and natural value. We must all speak up now for this wonderful area and shut down forever the opening of the Koongarra Project, and save economic rationalist governments from themselves.
Don't let us be beaten by timing and government chicanery as was the case with Jabiluka.
* Allan Fox is a long-term member of NPA and for many years kept an early version of the National Parks Journal alive. He was responsible for setting up Kakadu's first Plan of Management and responsible for the Aboriginal Ranger Training Programme; he also produced Kakadu Man.
PHOTO NO 6 EXPAND BY 3 TIMES Shattered sandstone and quartz, central Koongarra ALLAN FOX Current mining pit at Ranger; Yellow Cake mill and refinery on skyline ALLAN FOX PHOTO NO 7 EXPAND BY 2.5 18 OCTOBER 1999
OCTOBER 1999 19
in the far west
Kathy Ridge & Jenny Guice*
H eavy-mineral sand deposits have been mined for years; many of us are all too familiar with old sandmining areas on the NSW coast. That has now been slowed to the point of only a few active sites, such as BHP mining Stockton Beach, however the need for heavy metals such as rutile has not abated.
A more politically acceptable area for sand mining is in the far west, whose regional communities need viable employment opportunities and the competing recreational interest is much lower. What we need to ensure is that the political solution will not cost the inland communities the Earth, or more accurately their water.
The key challenges with inland sandmining centre around the biodiversity values of the mallee; the close proximity of World Heritage areas; which water sources can be accessed; and what happens to the contaminated water after extraction.
History Mineral-sand exploration in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) began in the early 1970s. Within the NSW portion, the mineral-sand bearing Loxton-Parilla Sands occupy an area more than 50 times larger than the east coast mineral-sand province, and lie within one of the most sensitive environments in Australia. The heavy minerals in these deposits are mainly ilmenite, zircon, rutile and monazite.
At present, exploration tenements - which are generally tens of thousands of square kilometres cover much of the NSW part of the MDB (nature reserves excluded).
The chief companies involved in current mineral exploration in the MDB are RZM, Westralian Sands, Bemax and RGC Exploration.
Water The area is essentially semi-arid, with average annual rainfall being generally less than 300 mm. Evaporation rates are high, and long dry spells and droughts are common. Mines will need reliable water supplies, which is likely to result in the use of groundwater.
Most agricultural activity and town-water supply in the MDB relies on groundwater. It is predicted that 8-10 million ha of the MDB will have groundwater within 2 m of the surface in 50-100 years, and about 30% of this area will be actively discharging saline water .
The aquifers underlying the Loxton Parilla Sands can be highly saline; if this water is used in the mining process there is real potential for salinity levels to rise.
Groundwater contamination caused by sandmining operations has been well documented, particularly as a result of operations at Port Stephens on the NSW Central Coast, where arsenic and iron levels in excess of World Health regulations were detected in town drinking water. Once groundwater is contaminated, it is nearly impossible to fully rectify.
Biodiversity Many of the identified ore deposits are in close proximity to World Heritage Listed and identified nature reserves such as the Willandra Lakes (including Mungo NP).
These areas contain high biodiversity and cultural significance at an international level. Any impact on land within a nearby catchment would inadvertently have an effect.
Although much of the mallee land (outside the nature reserves) has been modified through grazing and farming, it has been found to contain extensive diversity in both plant and animal species which would be devastated by mining practices.
Cultural heritage Aboriginal artefacts and remains have been well preserved in alluvial and aeolian sediments in and surrounding both modern and ancient water courses, including the Willandra Lakes and Lake Victoria. In addition to archaeologically significant areas (including burial grounds and massacre sites) which just preserve the physical remains of the past, traditional knowledge of significant places has been handed down through generations.
There are three main indigenous tribal groups in the NSW portion of the MDB: the southern Barkindji, Muthi Muthi and Nyiamaa. These groups are active in the administration of the World Heritage Area. It is envisaged that these indigenous groups will have involvement with the mineral-sand exploration proposals.
Communities for change It is time for the community of the region to sit down, think about the future they see for their area; value the social, environmental, and cultural characteristics they wish to include in their vision; and talk seriously about how they will work together to attain that vision.
It is our responsibility to raise our issues of concern within the above context and work with the communities for better long-term outcomes on a regional basis. This process should begin now, ahead of any firm proposals to ensure that the issues raised by inland sandmining are considered in a strategic planning process which has the viability of the community and its environment as priorities.
* Kathy Ridge is Executive Officer of the Nature Conservarvation Council; Jenny Guice is the groundwater networker.
20 OCTOBER 1999
Readers are welcome to respond by letter or e-mail to other letters or articles in the National Parks Journal, or to write in about any topic you choose. Preference will be given to short, concise letters. Other letters may be edited or not included, depending on space limits. Please be aware of libel and defamation laws! All views expressed are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by NPA.
Letters to the Editor
NPWS under siege
Noel Plumb's article in the August edition of the Journal (page 3) was clearly written without reference to any on-ground NPWS staff. it painted a rosy picture of the Service's budget and staffing situation that would not be shared by many of its rangers, field officers and district managers.
At the time of writing this letter, the Service's budget had not been handed down to the field. It is true that the Service's overall budget has increased, but this is going towards a few specific projects.
Staff in the field have been advised to expect a savage operational cut of around 10-15%, with further cuts in the coming two years. Included in these cuts is the salary allocation, which we have been advised is going to be inadequate - staff cuts are proposed.
These staff cuts are to be partly achieved through the restructure.
The restructure is essentially removing a layer of management - a layer of management that many in the field see as an essential support. Whereas previously there were regional managers, then district managers, then sub-district managers, there will now be regional managers and area managers. District managers are being cut out altogether. Districts will no longer exist - instead of the 27 districts there will only be 16 regions. The result is likely to be the loss of anywhere from 20 to 30 jobs - there is already talk of voluntary redundancies.
Many of those who will go are the Service's most experienced senior officers in the field. All of those staff were busy and worked long hours. Their work will not go away - no doubt those who remain will be asked to pick it up by working even longer hours as unpaid labour. The thinly managed and inexperienced structure that remains is going to be under incredible pressure at the best of times; during a major incident, such as a large whale stranding or a bad fire season, the cracks will appear.
The introduction of the new finance system at the same time as the operational field restructure is also proving disastrous. Invoices are being paid slowly at best. Some district offices have even received disconnection notices for telephones and electricity.
Suppliers are not being paid until well over time, if at all, and the organisation's credibility with its creditors is in jeopardy.
Morale in the department is the lowest I have seen it in my many years with the Service. Productivity has fallen. Consultation about the restructure with staff seems token at best - many staff do not bother when they are asked to provide input, as there is a belief that it will not be listened to anyway. There is very little confidence in, or respect for, the Director-General, but staff are afraid to voice their feelings for fear of reprisals. Many of the district managers and assistant district managers feel that they have been lied to and stabbed in the back.
If the staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service ever needed the support of the National Parks Association it is now, and quickly, to slow this restructure and allow a greater scrutiny of its impacts. By December the new structure will be in place - even the end of August may be too late.
Received 12 August 1999 [The author also noted: I hope you will forgive me for not signing this letter - I, too, fear reprisals.]
My article was based on commitments from the NSW Government not to reduce NPWS funding - see item in "Environment News". (Noel Plumb)
More bush views
Scott Marshall in his letter in the June edition of the Journal outlines our choices for bushland preservation - either the thick bushland we have now, or the allegedly open woodland of two hundred years ago, before white settlement.
I can't help but have serious nagging doubts about the descriptions passed on to us by the early settlers, and used by Tim Flannery in his publications, such as The Future Eaters, and also related in The Explorers.
Most serious of these doubts is the general concept that there was no understorey, just a few scattered trees and grasslands, reminiscent of a gentleman's estate back in England. If there was no understorey it is hard to conceive how the very complex flora and fauna that now constitutes our bushlands has appeared. It has obviously evolved over a very long period and we now see subtle variations in this complex throughout the natural landscape, varying according to local landscape factors. If this was generally absent 200 years ago then it must have either survived in a multitude of small remnant patches over the millennia that the Aborigines generally burnt the landscape, or the descriptions from the early settlers are not representative of the general landscape condition.
I suspect we can put little faith in the early descriptions; they were notoriously vague. The only sensible plan is to manage for biodiversity. This may require a lot more solid science than we have done so far, but the end result should be to preserve as many species as possible in what can be identified as their natural habitat.
Oakville 28 July 1999
Mutawintji, wilderness and all that
In September 1983, responding to the highly destructive impact of NSW NPWS management on significant sections of Mootwingee Historic Site, the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council blockaded the road into the site. In August, 1983, I presented a paper to the Third World Conference on National Parks offering a similar evaluation after numerous visits from the first in 1951. By that time I had worked on Kakadu, UluruKatatjuta, Nitmilik and Gurig national parks where joint park agency/Aboriginal management scenarios were in place or being evolved. I was convinced that joint management brought with it important values of environmental and ecological know-how and area protection. It was of great interest to know whether similar values would accrue from similar involvement by Aboriginal people in NSW.
Director Don Johnstone consequently requested that I sort out the problems at Mootwingee and prepare a Plan of Management for the three areas: Mootwingee Historic Site and National Park and Cooturaundee Nature Reserve.
The ensuing 15-month study and development of the plans emphasised for me the incredible depth of attachment to the land by those Bagandji people from Wilcannia, a hopeless community according to the media. Against the advice of many, I employed the community as researchers and they joined the botanist, biologist and anthropologist on equal terms.
There were many positive outcomes such as the recording of traditional stories from the old people, the location of art and other significant cultural sites, as well as much information on animal behaviour and distribution. But more, even than these, was the enthusiasm and interest generated in and by people who were enjoying having meaning and value once again.
Outcomes from the 350-page 1986 report and plans were many, including recommendations that the "Gnalta" block be zoned wilderness, an active yellow-footed rock wallaby regeneration program be initiated with ultimate return of animals to the Historic Site and adjacent areas, and that the Historic Site be returned to the traditional owners and a joint management agreement be entered into.
There are now concerns such as those expressed in the past Journal/s and the media, that an Aboriginal takeover of national parks, the misuse of wilderness and the loss of biodiversity is imminent. Notwithstanding the powers devolved to the States by Howard's `Ten Point Plan', the Wik decision rules out the handback of Lands of the Crown (as distinct from Crown Lands which may be placed under Land Claim) which have designated purposes such as for national park, historic site or nature reserve. However there does appear to be another problem which could accrue from the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
Just as many Aboriginals from northern and arid Australia have been stunned by the ready acceptance by Senator Ridgeway of kinship (to the land) instead of custodianship (of the land), the 1983 NSW Act was changed in 1990 to allow a watering down of the Aboriginal land ethic. My extensive relationship with Aboriginal people indicates very clearly that land under no circumstances can be regarded as a commodity which can be bought or sold once custodianship has been accepted.
That would be tantamount to selling part of one's body. In the words of one old Yolgnu person, that land `has lost its music'.
The NSW Act rightly allows Crown Lands to be claimed and then granted in fee simple. Unlike the Northern Territory and South Australian Acts, NSW allows such land to be then sold and of course managed to produce an income.
While-ever the traditional land ethic is retained, a primary objective of Aboriginal custodianship is to maintain the land in a healthy condition. This is after all the power that was behind the vigorous fight put up by the traditional owners against the opening of the Jabiluka mine.
There are two misconceptions inherent in letters regarding "wilderness". First is that wilderness areas were never significant areas for Aboriginal people. This is not so. There are huge middens in Nadgee and I have found Aboriginal implements within a hundred metres of the top of Mt Grattai and on Mt Howitt, while some of the finest art galleries in Kakadu area are about Mt Gilruth and on the Arnhemland Plateau. Secondly, if one wants to maximise biodiversity, wilderness is not the way to go, for maximum biodiversity will be the product of fairly intense management, anathema to wilderness. (This discussion probably requires an article!) Please keep arguments for wilderness at a legitimate level ... there are many good reasons for wilderness areas without exaggeration of particular values.
If I seem to be overly pro-Aboriginal it is because I have experienced the benefits to both the white and black communities of jointly sharing our cultural values .... after all, what good is knowledge if it is not shared?!
30 August 1999
22 OCTOBER 1999
Forest-Friendly Building Timbers
Alan T Gray & Anne Hall (Editors) Earth Garden, 78 pp, pb, $9.95
Most of the time in timber yards I find an enquiry about the source of a particular load of timber is met with either ignorance or outright hostility. I still find it difficult, and I'm 6'4" tall and I have 20 years' experience. What chance does a newcomer have?
Forest-Friendly Building Timbers sets out, item by item, available alternatives to traditional native forest timbers. It is an important book because it allows the reader to be prepared and therefore have more confidence when searching for these alternatives. It provides those first leads so important when tracking down a particular product or material. It is a truly worthwhile book, and I have been waiting a long time for something like it. To discover many of these sources and products without a guide like this can take a very long time.
On the downside, although second-hand materials are thoroughly covered, I was constantly looking for more information on plantation timbers. I encountered a frustrating amount of repetition in the information, which could perhaps be tidied up with a key system; and the section on specifications I found, as a builder, a little simplistic.
Overall, however, these are but minor criticisms. This book has a place on any builder's or designer's shelf. And the faults merely leave room for another, even better, edition.
Builder & conservationist
(See also June 1999 about controversy concerning the book's distribution; and the "Good Life Book Club" catalogue in this issue if you wish to order a copy.)
The Improvers Legacy
Environmental studies of the Hawkesbury
Jocelyn Powell (Ed) Deerubbin Press, pb, 156 pp, $22
There is a certain irony in the title of this interesting small book, since rather than being a study of those who have tried to improve the health of the Hawkesbury catchment, the title goes back to the idea of the first settlers that land must be `improved' by clearing to create economic benefits. It is this legacy of dramatic environmental change that this book largely deals with, though there is a rundown on the history of parks and reserves in the catchment ... a true legacy of improvement.
The book is a collection of chapters by experts in the field, and begins with a chapter by Sue Rosen giving a historical synopsis of how greatly we have changed the environment of this major river system. It is interesting to read that as early as Governor King there was awareness of environmental problems, with the Governor forbidding the felling of timber on the banks of the river.
The chapter by J Kohen on Aboriginal environmental impacts is well worth reading, and points out that the greatest environmental impact in fact occurred in the last 4,000 years, where numbers increased due to technological change. The chapter on changes in the biota by Harry Recher and others is also fascinating.
Perhaps no issue in the environment movement generates more controversy than fire, yet fire is by and large dealt with in a rational and thought-provoking way (in contrast to recent statements by Tim Flannery). The chapter by Chris Cunningham is a useful contribution to the debate.
As he states, `if Aboriginal burning modified the fire pattern in the Hawkesbury region, it was probably done in a piece-meal way.' The chapter on extractive industries and boat wash may be seen as too technical by some, but these are key problems in the Hawkesbury. As Erskine concludes about dredging, `clearly the removal of shallows and associated plants will increase the concentration of nutrients.' I have worked on national park creation in the catchment for 23 years, but the chapter on national parks and reserves by Jocelyn Powell taught me a great deal. It is a summary of the creation of reserves in the Hawkesbury catchment not found anywhere else. The final chapter of the book is a history of attempts to create some sort of body specifically concerned with managing the whole Hawkesbury Catchment. It is written by Liberal MP Kevin Rozzoli, who shows us just how unique the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Trust is in terms of its principles of community involvement, transparency and integrity ...
unique even on the world stage.
It has been said that a quarter of Australia's population lives within 110 km of Sydney Cove.
Only some of these live within the Hawkesbury catchment, but most of them use or rely on it in some form. The relevancy of a book on the catchment's environmental history, problems and some solutions is thus obvious. I recommend it to all who raise their eyes above everyday concerns and ponder the future. That future is not set in stone, it is one we can change if we have the facts. We can really improve our world and leave a natural legacy behind us.
OCTOBER 1999 23 (Advertisement)
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2 OCTOBER 1999
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OCTOBER 1999 Vol 43 No 5
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