Woodside’s whale count is way too low, say gas hub opponents

Graeme LLoyd, Environment Editor, The Australian 10th August 2012Image

Photo by Damien Kelly

MIGRATING whales and newborn calves are streaming past Woodside’s proposed $30 billion James Price Point gas hub site near Broome, eclipsing estimates in the company’s environmental impact assessment, which has received a record number of appeals.

Volunteers, co-ordinated by marine biologist Maddie Goddard, counted 1423 individual whales within 8km of the red cliff coastline in 132 hours of observation between July 1 and Tuesday.

The count included 1233 individual whales and 95 calving pairs.

“Those figures suggest 8600 whales would have been sighted in the migration corridor if observations had taken place around the clock,” volunteer Charlotte Buckton said.

The Woodside environmental report estimates that only 1000 whales will move through the corridor within 8km of the coast at James Price Point each season.

Conservationists are concerned that the whale migration will be disturbed by a proposed 8km-long sea wall stretching 6km out to sea at James Price point.

Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit has said the environmental assessment of Woodside’s proposed James Price Point development lacked scientific rigour and should not be accepted.

It lacked baseline data on which to make assessments, contained contradictory statements, failed to assess a proposed increase in scope, and failed to apply the precautionary principle.

In an appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptance of Woodside’s environmental impact assessment, the university said poor data collection and analysis meant there was a high level of uncertainty over the development’s potential impact.

Murdoch dolphin expert Simon Allen said the movement of whales less than 1km off the James Price Point site yesterday demonstrated the sensitivity of the area.

The Woodside report said less than 5 per cent of humpback whales passed within 8km of the coastline.

EPA chairman Paul Vogel said the impact of the gas hub development on whales and dolphins would be manageable.

“Provided the strict conditions recommended are implemented, impacts to marine fauna will be managed and are unlikely to be significant at the species population level,” Dr Vogel said.

He said the population of humpback whales had continued to increase since whaling ceased in the 1960s, despite the increase in iron ore and petroleum industries.

However, those opposed to Woodside’s plans say the James Price Point development’s sea-wall would disturb the migration.

The EPA has approved the Woodside development subject to 29 conditions and offsets.

The WA Office of the Appeals Convenor said 244 appeals had been lodged to the James Price Point approval decision.

Mr Allen is researching a potential new species of dolphin discovered near James Price Point that went unnoticed in Woodside’s environmental assessment.

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