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Pages tagged "Marine and Coastal Environment"

Impacts of Off Road Vehicles on Beaches

27 October 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the escalating damage that inappropriate off-road vehicle usage is doing to our coastal environment and our ecosystems in South Australia. Our beaches are the busiest they have ever been, but our presence is starting to have an environmental impact on the landscape that should not be ignored. Off-road four-wheel driving is a popular recreational activity and one that has only grown more popular as these vehicles have become more powerful and more widely accessible.

Unmanaged off-road vehicle uses cause significant long-term damage to our environment. In coastal dune environments, four-wheel driving can contribute to physical changes in the structure of the beaches, the destruction of dune vegetation and to the introduction and spread of pest species and diseases into the coastal environment, leading to a significant loss of biodiversity. A healthy dune system is also an important buffer, acting to protect the mainland from erosion and storm events.

This loss of habitat and native vegetation has profound impacts on our animal life. Macroinvertebrates, macrofauna and shorebirds are particularly affected by this disruption. South Australia has four species of resident shorebirds and all except for one species are listed as vulnerable or rare. The most critically endangered of these is the hooded plover. The hooded plover preferences high-energy beaches and breeds exclusively on ocean beaches in South Australia. They, among other species, are utterly dependent on these beaches and do not have the option of going elsewhere. The birds lay their eggs in the summer, coinciding with the peak period of beach use.

In addition to loss of habitat and food supply, vehicles can impact coastal bird communities directly by crushing their nests and their chicks. Indeed, studies along the Coorong ocean beaches showed 81 per cent of hooded plover nests had been crushed by vehicles—81 per cent. The disturbance caused by vehicles can also lead to distress for the nests to the point of abandonment by the birds. Recent surveys in the Fleurieu Peninsula only counted 29 breeding pairs, and beach nesting bird population numbers are subject to rapid decline. If we do not provide a helping hand, it will not be long before these species face extinction. We cannot allow that to happen.

We must strike a better balance between our enjoyment of the beach and the health of our coastal ecosystems. All signs would indicate that we are getting that balance wrong. The right to access beach areas must depend on keeping the environmental impacts of vehicles within acceptable limits. If we do not do this, we then risk permanent degradation of our unique habitat and the destruction of our animal life.

Other states have been able to recognise that unrestricted vehicle use on beaches is a significant threat. Let's look at what is occurring interstate. New South Wales and Queensland maintain permit systems whereby four-wheel drives require permits to access and drive on the beaches, thereby introducing greater accountability and protections. In Victoria, off-road and recreational vehicles are prohibited from driving on public beaches entirely. Sadly, that is not the case in South Australia.

The brunt of the work done to combat this coastal damage has fallen upon the shoulders of community groups who have spent their time rehabilitating damaged beach areas, and groups such as Birds SA are working very hard to protect our resident shorebirds in peak seasons. The negative effect of unmanaged beach vehicle use is mounting, and it is well past time for the government to show some leadership here. It needs to work to bring us up to speed with other jurisdictions in Australia.

Recently, I had the opportunity to host a screening of the film On the Right Track, looking at the fate of the plover and the impact of unregulated practices on our beaches on our native birdlife. We need to do something about this, particularly as we head into our summer months. We cannot afford to put our beautiful native birds at risk during this summer season. Really, it is time for the government to step up and to show some leadership.

Question: Giant Cuttlefish

10 June 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, the Treasurer, on the topic of giant cuttlefish in Whyalla.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Last week, it was reported that Whyalla council approved Point Lowly marina access to Clean Seas Seafood to set up a major kingfish farm in nearby Fitzgerald Bay. This approval has come despite major concerns from the community and council about the impact on the world famous giant Australian cuttlefish population.

Clean Seas has been attempting to gain access to the Point Lowly marina since 2019 but had repeatedly been blocked by the council. Last week's approval will allow it to move its first fingerlings into Fitzgerald Bay before the end of the year.

Whyalla Mayor Clare McLaughlin said the council risked losing control of the state government owned marina if it rejected the latest bid. The council has said they feel they have no choice but to approve marina access, with the mayor stating that if they rejected the bid the state government would take back control and pass it on to a third, unknown party.

My question to the Treasurer is: with up to 200,000 cuttlefish that gather in the area to breed from May to August each year, what will the state government be doing to ensure that the pristine Fitzgerald Bay marine environment is not compromised by the approvals they have granted?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): The minister has advised me that the Department of Primary Industries and Regions is responsible for the regulation and management of the aquaculture industry in accordance with the act and that the assessment of individual aquaculture licence applications follows a strict set of guidelines and a risk-based assessment based on national best practice. For this particular proposed aquaculture operation at Fitzgerald Bay, a comprehensive ecologically sustainable development risk assessment report was undertaken, along with consideration of the most recent scientific advice and published research.

The applications, I am advised, were also referred to the EPA for approval, as is required by the act, to ensure the proposals meet the objectives of the Environment Protection Act 1993 and associated environment protection policies. These include the Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy from 2015.

With appropriate mitigation measures and environmental monitoring programs in place, the risk assessment determined that Clean Seas' applications in Fitzgerald Bay rated as a low risk. To inform the assessment of the Fitzgerald Bay applications, I am told that SARDI undertook oceanographic modelling in 2018 to demonstrate the spatial footprint of aquaculture-related nutrients and other derived organic matter in the Upper Spencer Gulf.

I am further advised that these studies demonstrated nutrient levels are expected to remain well below the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council 2000 water quality guideline trigger values. The SARDI modelling, I am told, demonstrates a negligible to minimal impact of aquaculture to the west and south of Point Lowly, which is particularly important, I am sure, not only to the honourable member but to others, given the desire of government to protect the giant Australian cuttlefish which aggregate annually south of Point Lowly.

After the assessment, the EPA supported the granting of aquaculture licences to Clean Seas. The minister has provided further detailed information indicating the extent of the work that was done and sharing in the concerns about the potential impacts, but they have undertaken the tasks as they are required to by law.

St Kilda Mangroves Destruction

27 May 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak briefly in support of this motion, but particularly in condemnation of the way the two ministers, the Minister for Energy and Mining and the Minister for Environment and Water, have handled this matter. I say 'handled the matter', but really they have bungled the matter. It is utterly reprehensible that it took so long for them to act, and the lack of transparency from both departments has been simply appalling.

It has now been a year since there were first signs that something was very wrong down at the mangroves, but it has been even longer since the ponds started to be filled by Buckland Dry Creek. I remind all members here that Buckland Dry Creek were not allowed to move water or brine where these ponds are under the holding pattern that has been in place. This was the care and maintenance plan put in place after the ponds were initially closed back in 2013 and drained, against advice, in 2014—although I note as well that there are separate issues with the holding pattern and whether or not that was even working.

Despite this, despite the holding pattern, there was early evidence of the ponds being filled on 6 December 2019. What follows is a damning time line in terms of the government's management of this issue. The first two ponds south of St Kilda, PA5 and PA7, had shallow brine right across them by 21 December 2019. The brine in those first two ponds continued to deepen until 15 January 2020. The gate to PA8 was opened and brine started to fill that pond, reducing the levels in PA6 and PA7, notably.

By 27 January 2019, which was the next available date for the satellite imagery, the gate to PA9 had been opened and that pond had started to fill, reducing the brine levels in the first three ponds. On 6 May 2020, the satellite imagery shows considerably deeper brine right across the ponds—a clear ramping up of the pumping, which must have occurred in the few days before. By 15 July 2020, the orange patter visible in the false colour in the normalised vegetation index was apparent, signifying a loss of chlorophyll, which is a hallmark of the areas where mangroves and samphires had begun to die. By 30 July 2020, the mangrove dieback area was quite clear on the satellite imagery.

Yet, despite this, despite this evidence very early on in the piece, the government did not get involved until September. In fact, it was not until late September that DEM, DEW, the EPA, the Coast Protection Board and Buckland Dry Creek visited the mangroves and noted that they were sick. At that point as well you could see and hear the brine trickling out of the banks, and you could even see where the acidified brine had reached the surface. This is a damning time line, so it is mind-boggling really to hear from both departments that they were not aware of this issue until September. What is going on here?

It is frankly bizarre that it took until earlier this year—and we do not know the exact date—for a formal investigation committee to be established to look into the impacts of the leaking brine. Worse still, we are told that we might not even have a report until next year. Talk about being asleep at the wheel! None of this has come out of nowhere. We have had clear and consistent warnings as far back as 2012 that this could happen, some of those from the government and the government's commissioned reports.

When the salt fields were first set to be closed, a report prepared for the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board outlined the risks of the pond closure, including the discharge of hypersaline brine and its impact on the environment. We have then actually seen a formal complaint—not just one complaint but several complaints—lodged under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2015, once again raising concerns around the risk of acid sulphates and brine leaking into the mangroves.

These complaints also related to concerns that while there was a holding pattern in place, it was not a long-term solution and was originally intended to end in 2014. By then the owners of the site—Ridley, at that time—were supposed to have a closure plan in place. Instead, since then we have seen the holding pattern extending until 2018, and then again until SA Water ran out of water intended for dilution of the brine sometime in 2019.

Then, as if that was not enough, once again a study commissioned by the department in 2019 noted a major issue that hypersaline and sulphide-rich sediments had built up over large areas of the ponds and the salt field, posing a potential environmental hazard and a barrier to the remediation of the site. All of these warnings, all of these concerns, have been ignored.

When we have seen action, the action taken has been inadequate. It has been done in half measures. We have been told that the departments and the EPA have pumped 50 million litres out of the leaking ponds, but what has actually happened is that water has been removed but salt remains. The brine was pumped from one side of the leaking ponds to the other, to a side that is slightly higher up, and that pumping was just to increase the evaporation of these ponds. So of course all the salt has been left behind, so when it rains all of that salt is just going to be washed back into the system.

What is more concerning is that apparently the DEM staff have admitted that they have no data yet to predict the impact of the rain. Instead, they just hope that, based on the annual moisture deficit, there will not be a significant mobilisation of the redissolved salt. This is terrible. What I think the department are hoping for is some sort of miracle, because while the year has been dry so far, the area where the salt fields are actually experiencing negative evaporation—otherwise known as significant rainfall—has been left lacking. So to pin your hopes on a year-long average, rather than on the real-time weather conditions, is simply ridiculous.

Beyond that, I am informed that the Department for Energy and Mining has fully acknowledged to the community that, despite the department's hopes of a second wave of the groundwater, this may move towards the marsh in winter. Let's be clear: they are once again fully cognisant of the possibilities of the risks, but they do not seem to be doing anything at all. This is certainly excessive risk-taking behaviour on behalf of the government. We are seeing far too little action, too little too late, from the state government, and we are seeing one department passing the buck to another, on to the EPA or the federal department, but no-one is prepared to step up and take responsibility, to hold the minister to account, and fix this problem.

When this motion was first introduced, my colleague Tammy Franks raised the fact that the trees in local backyards were suddenly dying and that we were seeing an explosion in mosquito populations, but since then we have seen a devastating impact. This disaster is having a terrible effect on migratory birds. I would commend the work of the St Kilda Mangroves Alliance in raising this issue, and I understand they have now lodged a complaint with the federal environment minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. There is a litany of failures here. It is very clear that the government needs to step up and take some action. More needs to be done sooner rather than later. It has already been too long. I commend the motion.