Media

Woodside numbers ‘too low’: research

Andrew Tillet, Broome Advertiser, 21st March 2013

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Environmentalists claim Woodside has drastically underestimated the number of whales that swim in the waters off James Price Point as they step up their campaign against the proposed gas hub.

A new report by the Kimberley Community Whale Research project says between 12,108 and 15,876 humpback whales passed within 8km of the James Price Point shoreline during the 2012 migration season, compared to 1000 that Woodside’s global consultant RPS estimated would do so.

The RPS report was submitted to the WA Environmental Protection Authority which approved the LNG precinct proposal for the Browse Basin last July.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is currently considering the application but Woodside’s project partner Shell is keen on processing LNG on a floating platform which is cheaper and has less impact on the environment.

Researchers for the Kimberley project recorded 2669 humpback whales, including 172 cow-calf pairs, while surveying the waters off James Price Point four hours a day for three months last year.

That figure excludes double-counting and was extrapolated to give the 12,000-15,000 range.

The survey was overseen by marine scientists and conducted on behalf of the Goolarabooloo traditional owners and Broome Community No Gas Campaign.

Project researcher Charlotte Buckton said the study also found the waters off James Price Point were much more important for whales than claimed, including being used for calving.

“Whales carry out a number of activities in the James Price Point region, including resting, milling, playing and slow swimming behaviours and often we observed newborn calves that were engaging in their vital first interactions with their mothers,” she said.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the report “reinforces the inadequacy of the environmental assessment already undertaken by the EPA and the WA Government”.

However, Woodside stood by its whale research, with a spokesman last week saying four years of scientific studies had found 95 per cent of migrating whales swam more than 8km off James Price Point on their way to and from Camden Sound, 350km north, which independent researchers had identified as the main calving area for humpbacks.

“Thousands of humpback whales migrate up and down the WA coastline each year,” he said.

The EPA said its “rigorous” environmental impact assessment of the project examined all key environmental factors, including whales, before making its recommendations to the State Government. RPS said it was confident it had assisted with “robust scientific surveys”.

 

Broome Scientists present Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke with a report on the importance of James Price Point to calving Humpback Whales

Media Release, Kimberley Community Whale Research Project, 19th March 2013

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A scientific report released last week was presented to the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, in Canberra. A delegation of scientists went to Canberra to meet with the Minister to discuss the significance of the report’s findings. The report calls into question the Western Australian Environment Minister’s environmental approval of the contentious James Price Point Gas Hub located near Broome. The peer-reviewed report is from an extensive shore-based scientific survey that documented Humpback whale use of the James Price Point area, who migrate to the area during winter to rest, calve and nurse their young.

Previous whale studies in the area, which informed the Western Australian EPA and State Environment Minister’s approval of the gas hub, estimated that the area was not critical calving habitat to the Humpback Whale population and that only 1000 whales would pass within 8km of James Prince Point in 2012. In stark contrast, the more extensive survey released today estimates between 12,108 and 15,876 whales passed within 8km of JPP in 2012, representing an estimated 36-47% of the population. This result indicates that the science that has so far informed the environmental impact assessment is inadequate and underestimates the importance of the James Price Point area to calving Humpback Whales.

The report was presented to the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke in Canberra last Thursday. Minister Burke is still to give federal environmental approval for the project. Through his responsibilities under the Environmental Protection of Biodiversity and Conservation Act (1999), the minister must show that the project does not pose a significant risk to the listed population. The report recommends that due to the stark contrast in the whale science in the area, more extensive whale research needs to be conducted at James Prince Point before the minister can properly assess the potential impacts of the gas hub.

This report is the latest in a line of independent scientific reports which have shown inadequacies and discrepancies in the science that has informed the gas hub environmental impact assessment, with other issues having been found with bilbies, marine turtles and dinosaur footprints.

Scientific Report indicates that James Price Point Gas Hub could cause far
greater impact to Humpback Whales than previously thought

Media Release, Kimberley Community Whale Research Project, 14th March 2013

SCutts - whale tail & rig
Photo by Steve Cutts

A scientific report released today calls into question the Western Australian Environment Minister’s environmental approval of the contentious James Price Point Gas Hub located near Broome. The peer-reviewed report is from an extensive shore-based scientific survey that documented Humpback whale use of the James Price Point area, who migrate to the area during winter to rest, calve and nurse their young.

Previous whale studies in the area, which informed the Western Australian EPA and
State Environment Minister’s approval of the gas hub, estimated that the area was not
critical calving habitat to the Humpback Whale population and that only 1000 whales
would pass within 8km of James Prince Point in 2012. In stark contrast, the more
extensive survey released today estimates between 12,108 and 15,876 whales passed
within 8km of JPP in 2012, representing an estimated 36-47% of the population.
This result indicates that the science that has so far informed the environmental
impact assessment is inadequate and underestimates the importance of the
James Price Point area to calving Humpback Whales.

The report was presented to the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, today,
who is still to give federal environmental approval for the project. Through his
responsibilities under the Environmental Protection of Biodiversity and Conservation
Act (1999), the minister must show that the project does not pose a significant risk to
the listed population. Today’s report recommends that due to the stark contrast in the
whale science in the area, more extensive whale research needs to be conducted at
James Prince Point before the minister can properly assess the potential impacts of the
gas hub.

This report is the latest in a line of independent scientific reports which have shown
inadequacies and discrepancies in the science that has informed the gas hub
environmental impact assessment, with other issues having been found with bilbies,
marine turtles and dinosaur footprints.

The lead authors of the report will be conducting a press conference today at
Parliament House, Canberra, at 10.45 am.

For further information, comments or images, please contact Malcolm Lindsay
on 0405 667 103, or email kimberleywhaleresearch@hotmail.com.

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

Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 10th August 2012

A whale breaches off the red cliff coast near James Price Point. Environmentalists say a proposed sea-wall near the gas hub could disturb whale and dolphin migration Picture: Damian Kelly Source: The Australian

A whale breaches off the red cliff coast near James Price Point. Environmentalists say a proposed sea-wall near the gas hub could disturb whale and dolphin migration Picture: Damian Kelly Source: The Australian

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.

Fighting for the whales

Flip Prior, The West Australian, 8th August 2012

“Babies breaching,” someone shouted, and everyone rushed to the side of Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin vessel, binoculars at the ready under the black Jolly Roger flag flapping in the breeze.

In the distance, several kilometres from the Dampier Peninsula coastline, an adult whale slapped her tail and blew plumes of water as her young calf playfully breached beside her, silvery in the early morning sun.

Kimberley naturalist Richard Costin pointed back to the coast, where red rocks loomed above bright white sand.

“We’re just coming into the development area for the proposed James Price Point gas hub … (it) has the highest concentration of whales on the Kimberley coast,” he said.

“From here through to the Lacipede Islands, the work that we’ve done in the last three or four years has pinpointed this area as being perhaps the most important area on the Kimberley coast for the whales.

“The whales are actually calving all the way along the coast … between the 80 mile beach and just to the north of Camden Sound. The calving grounds, up until now, have been totally undisturbed.”

The whales were the first of 22 – including at least 10 calves – to be spotted today between Broome and James Price Point, the site of the State Government and Woodside’s proposed gas hub.

For former Greens Senator Bob Brown, the sight proved his point: that the area was the “world’s biggest whale nursery” and the wrong place for the development.

“This is a national whale sanctuary – here we are to protect it,” Mr Brown said. “The whale nursery cannot co-exist safely with a gas factory. As a nation, we should be protecting it.”

How many whales inhabit these Kimberley waters – and what effect the proposed gas hub will have on their annual migration from Antarctic waters in the south to give birth in the north- is proving the latest flashpoint in a long series of battles between those for and against the hub.

Woodside has said the most important calving ground for the whales are much further north in Camden Sound and that the impacts on whales passing by the proposed development can be adequately managed and mitigated.

Others – including the crew of the controversial anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin – disagree.

Earlier this week, the vessel sailed into Broome to ramp up the campaign against the proposed gas hub by drawing international attention to whales in the region in a bid to embarrass those who are part of the project.

This morning, surveying the calm waters and blue skies, Captain Malcolm Holland admitted it was not the Sea Shepherd’s typical kind of campaign Usually, the crew are in the Antarctic, dodging bullets, water cannons, acoustic devices and flash bang grenades in stormy seas, getting rammed by ships manned by the armed Japanese coastguard.

However, he sees the Kimberley action as just as vital, pointing out it involves the same whales.

“This is a very different kind of campaign … what we’re doing on this campaign is showing what it’s like up here – that they’re building a heavy industrial facility and international sea port right alongside the biggest humpback whale nursery in Australia,” he said.

Despite the pirate motifs and camouflage paint all over the ship, the Sea Shepherd has a polite crew, reminded by signs all over the place of the strict rules: no drinking, no smoking, no fraternising, no shouting.

Photo by Anabelle Sandes/ Kimberley Media

Visitors on board are also hardly an anarchistic bunch – among them, rich former Melbourne merchant banker Phillip Wallon, now an extremely wealthy philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to supporting the Sea Shepherd’s cause.

This morning, he threw in an extra $100,000 and suggested others who could afford it should do the same.

“This is a battle that we just cannot afford to lose,” he said. “10,000 entire species are wiped out every year because of the actions of one species … that is a crime of unimaginable proportions.”

“I come from a corporate background. I am pro business … I don’t want to shut anything down. But I also want to make sure that we take care of all the externalities – the costs that business imposes on communities and the environment must also be taken into account.”

Retired Queens Counsel Murray Wilcox, said he was interested in seeing how close the whales intersected with the site of the proposed gas hub.

“It’s obviously a very close relationship,” he said.

He denied the Sea Shepherd was run by anarchists: “I think this is people who are very concerned about an issue that should concern us all,” he said.

“I think the Kimberley is one of the most beautiful areas in Australia – certainly one of the most pristine areas – and we have an opportunity to preserve a fairly well untouched wilderness area.

“If we don’t, there will be nothing left for our grandchildren. It is possible to exploit the gas reserves from the Browse basin without building a Kimberley gas plant.”

Environs Kimberley spokesman Martin Pritchard agrees. He said research carried out by community volunteers had counted 1441 humpback whales passing through since July 1, 1200 within 8km of the shore.

However, he said the Environmental Protection Authority had stated that on their annual northern migration, about 1000 whales would be expected to go past during an entire season.

“In three weeks, just looking four hours a day, we’re already had 1200 whales counted and about 90 cow-calf pairs,” Mr Pritchard said. “It’s actually proving Woodside and the State Government’s research wrong.”

Mr Costin said he had no faith in the research commissioned by Woodside and the State Government and even believes the results were deliberately fudged.

“When you look at the results at face value … the survey work … that is being relied on is totally unreliable,” he said.

“And no-one really understands what effect the discharges from an LNG facility processing 50 million tonnes per annum would have on the marine environment.”

Sea Shepherd Australia spokesman Jeff Hansen pledged that the ship would return to defend the whales in Kimberley waters for as long as it took to stop the project from going ahead.

“We do our best every year to save as many whales as we can in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the Australian Antarctic Territory,” he said.

“If the Australian government is not going to protect those waters, then the very least they can do is make sure that their largest humpback whale nursery is safe and protected, here north of Broome.

“If they’re under threat here, then we’re here to do whatever we can within the law to protect them here.

“People all around the world have the right to know that this is the largest humpback whale nursery and that the gas hub will go right through the middle of it.”

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