The latest Botany Bay Cable Project Newsletter – distributed Friday 13th March – makes reference to a ‘prosposed amendment to works in Botany Bay’. In light of the amendment the Minister responsible for the EPBC Act, Peter Garrett, was contacted. This is the email sent and here is the reply.

Energy Australia, after what looks like considerable consultation with Sydney Ports, intend to include dredging as part of this project, with the spoil being diverted to the Port Botany Expansion reclamation site. The details of the amendment are at http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=3041

It has been the classic approach to major development approvals. Bombard the community with paperwork, minimise the outrage by proposing a less invasive method and then after it is approved and the community has stopped paying attention go for the change to a more invasive option and submit the application during the holiday season. In this case it was the 21st January.

The project (without dredging) was referred, under the EPBC Act, to Peter Garrett’s department and in December 2007 his staff deemed the environmental impacts of this development NOT WORTHY of their scutiny even though the area impacted includes BARE ISLAND, one of the top Diving Sites in the State and home to a number of species supposedly protected under the EPBC Act. By way of comparison, the Botanic Gardens attempts to control Flying Fox numbers is deemed a controlled action and subject to scutiny by Peter Garrett’s department.

I wrote to Peter Garrett on 7/12/09 asking him to reconsider his department’s decision and make the project a Controlled Action under the EPBC Act. I did not receive a reply. Here is the link to the referral: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl?name=current_referral_detail&proposal_id=3552 You will note that impacts to marine creatures are downplayed.

Now that the Developer (a State owned corporation) is seeking approval from the Consent Authority (a State Government Department) to dredge, Peter Garrett could take another look. Dredging will have more impacts than those outlined in the original Environmental Assessment. The risks were too high then, so it is more important than ever that the Federal Government scrutinise this development.

When the local community was first consulted about the Cable Project one of their suggestions was to direct the cable to Molineux Point and along Prince of Wales Drive to the Bunnerong Sub-Station. It looked like a no-brainer as this route would have been further away from Bare Island, and avoided Botany Bay National Park, the La Perouse Headland and all the residents located along Anzac Parade who would be subject to increased health risks from high voltage cables. But there was no chance that such a route would be considered because the first authority consulted was Sydney Ports and this solution would have impacted port land.

The developer has paid for another Environmental Assessment of the proposed dredging impacts and their consultants consider the impacts ‘insignificant’, ‘unlikely’, and protected species like marine mammals to be ‘irregular’ visitors. It looks like a ‘cut and paste’ job on the original Environmental Assessment. The language is imprecise for good reason because they don’t have hard data. For instance the statement on marine mammals is based on antecdotal evidence provided by National Parks staff working around the Bay, not proper scientific studies.

Here are some of the conclusions in the Environmental Assessment with regard to selected protected species:

Of the EPBC (Section 284) listed fish species (pipe-fishes and sea-horses), a number may occur in the dredging and spoil storage areas. Whilst some individuals may be able to move away from the works, some could be taken up by the dredging operation or smothered by settling material in the storage location. Given the total area of the soft sediment habitat that would be affected, the potential loss of individuals of these species is considered insignificant.

With respect to marine mammals, reptiles and seabirds, it is concluded that whilst a number of dolphins, whales, marine turtles and reptiles are irregular visitors to Botany Bay, they are generally confined to the mouth of the bay and to the southern seagrass and shallow sand bar complex off Towra Point. Whilst direct impacts on these species arising from the proposal are not expected, there may be some potential disturbance due to noise or physical presence. This will be addressed by implementing mitigation measures. There are a number of waders, shore-birds, and fishing birds which utilise the shore and shallow areas in the vicinity of the study area as part of their wider use of the bay for feeding and roosting. Based on the review of aquatic bird usage of the bay, it is considered unlikely that proposal would have any significant impact on any of these species.

Those of you who have been around the Bay for decades may dispute the consultants opinions based on real experience. And for others the famous Mandy Rice-Davies line may spring to mind: “Well he would (say that) wouldn’t he” . The consultants are paid by the developers. This is an example of what could be seen in just a couple of hours of observation around Bare Island http://laperouse.info/?p=219 . And here is a link to more on the marine habitat http://laperouse.info/?page_id=72 Anglerfish (taken by Alain@mbox.com.au)

The NSW Department of Planning will, no doubt, approve the dredging amendment. The cable is required, they will argue, because of major developments like the Port Expansion so it will be promoted as ‘all for the good of the State’ as was done for the Port Botany Expansion. However, the Federal Government need not ‘turn a blind eye’. Peter Garrett, as one of his first acts as Environment Minister, signed away the opportunity to scutinise this development, ‘sans dredging’. But this amendment could invoke the full controlling powers of the EPBC Act.

Peter Garrett has a second chance!

Go to Peter Garrett’s website: http://www.petergarrett.com.au/ and on the front page is written:

EPBC, A guide to the most important federal environment legislation. Find out about the role of the EPBC Act with proposals such as the Sugarloaf Pipeline or the Shoalwater Bay rail and port. You can read how he stopped development in Shoalwater Bay north of Rockhampton, but nowhere will you find anything about the marine treasures in his own electorate in Botany Bay.

Contact details for Peter Garrett are: peter.garrett.mp@aph.gov.au

Regards, Lynda Newnam

Link to La Perouse Precinct, National Parks Association and Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance submissions:

http://www.botanybay.info/2007/07/19/energy-australia-botany-bay-cable-npa-submission

Link to letter to Peter Garrett: http://www.botanybay.info/2007/12/13/energy-australia-botany-bay-cable

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extracts from new proposal:

Marine, mammals and reptiles

Over the years there have been sitings of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), seals, marine turtles and reptiles within Botany Bay. These species are irregular visitors to the Botany Bay and their usage of the waterway is generally confined to the mouth of the bay and southern seagrass and shallow sand bar complex off Towra Point.

Sea, shore and wading birds

Fishing seabirds (other than the resident or regionally local cormorants, silver gulls, pelicans plus terns) are not generally associated with the shorelines of the study area and are generally seasonal visitors over the waters of the study corridor. Wader and shorebird species plus migratory fishing birds such as Little Terns, generally do not utilise the project area in high numbers and those that do occur exhibit a fair degree of flexibility in their use of available habitats, utilising other foraging and roosting sites within Botany Bay more frequently.

Overview of impacts

The three key elements of possible impact for aquatic communities are direct disturbance of aquatic habitats from dredging or burial, indirect smothering impacts on aquatic habitats from sediments derived from dredging and spoil disposal activities, and possible indirect impacts on adjacent habitats arising from alterations to wave climate. The worksites are located the following distances from important seagrass and rocky reef aquatic ecosystems:

  • 850 m southwest of the Astrolabe Cove deep reef habitat;
  • 525 m west of the Bare Island bombora reef extension;
  • 700 m northeast of Watts Reef;
  • 1,000 m northeast of the Kurnell seagrass bed;
  • 1,350 m northeast of the fish farm adjacent to Kurnell Pier (Caltex wharf);
  • 3.7 km from the nearest point in the Towra Point Aquatic Reserve (at Bonna Point); and
  • More than 4 km northeast of oyster growing facilities in Quibray Bay.

Some 7.7 ha of soft sediment habitat area is to be disturbed by dredging and disposal. Overall, given the relatively small areas of soft sediment habitat to be disturbed when compared to the available area of this type of habitat in the Bay, it is concluded that the direct impacts of dredging and storage of dredged material would be insignificant. The separation distances between the work sites and important seagrass and rocky reef habitats minimises the potential for direct impacts. The proposal does not involve any works within aquatic or nature reserves in Botany Bay.

Indirect Impacts

There are two indirect smothering impacts on aquatic ecosystems arising from the dredging and spoil disposal works; (i) the possibility of smothering by sediments re-distributed by wave action and (ii) the possibility of smothering or shading from sediment derived from turbidity/sediment plumes arising from the two activities.

The proposed dredging and storage of dredged material is unlikely to disturb Caulerpa plants and introduce fragments to the water column which could be transported to other parts of the bay to settle and grow.

2 Responses to “PROTECT BARE ISLAND BOTANY BAY”
  1. admin says:

    This email was sent to Peter Garrett by local residents Alain and Kathleen on 17/3/09

    Dear Peter,

    We have just become aware that Energy Australia has submitted an application to dredge Botany Bay to lay an electrical cable
    and wanted you to be aware that dredging of the area adjacent to Bare Island will adversely affect marine creatures protected
    under the EPBC Act.

    Could you please advise whether your Department has approved this dredging.

    For divers used to diving here (and we are among them) we are well aware of the incredible marine diversity in the
    waters around Bare Island and see many of the amazing creatures “listed” in the EPBC Act…in addition to others
    not “listed” – presumably because they are being newly discovered and not well studied.

    The Environmental Assessment says that spot dives were done at five sites in September 2008 with the summary
    of the findings being that no sea horses or pipe fish were observed in sandy areas and “no threatened” species, and
    no “listed” species on Watt reef. This is not consistent with our knowledge of the area.

    We dive here frequently, and can relate that both “threatened” and “listed” species are seen exactly where the
    cable will be laid according to the diagrams provided. Numbers vary according to the time of year and time of
    day. (Just as whales usually visit the bay in May-June and then October, there are seasons here for everything,
    big and small.) The diversity of this particular area is so amazing that the Sydneysiders who dive here
    frequently (many become addicted to Bare Island) know it to be more interesting to dive than many of the well
    known dive sites along the Great Barrier Reef. It THE place in Sydney that people now come to look for Sydney
    pygmy pipe horses as they are extremely rare to see elsewhere. The same is true for Red Indian Fish.
    One way of gaining an idea of how much diving goes on here and how much diversity there is around Bare
    Island is to visit the dive forum on: http://www.diveoz.com.au (eg see hanging on the deco line). Another is to just
    talk to divers getting out of the water on the weekend, especially those with fancy cameras!

    In addition to the listed species, we are particularly concerned about the potential effect dredging would
    have on the tiny yellow angler fish we have found to live exactly where the marine dredging is proposed. A
    photo is attached below showing it sitting on the “coarse shell-grit and sand” seabed referred to in the
    environmental assessment document. Not many people find these as it takes a well trained eye or great
    spotting skills to see such small wonders! They are unlikely to be seen by divers visiting a site on one
    day of the year!! A new genus of anglerfish, also shown below, has only been spotted by a few divers
    here in addition to a scientist from the Australian museum. This photo was taken within 300 metres of
    the area to be dredged and the posting of this particular photo on the web, along with two taken by
    other local divers, led a researcher from Seattle (doing a PhD with a research group renown for its
    research into anglerfish) coming to Australia to study it. No more were found during her visit. They
    are not easy to see!

    The environmental assessments done for the three recent Botany Bay projects (Towra Point Spit rehab,
    Sydney Desal and Port Botany Expansion) do not specifically consider the diversity of the marine life in
    the Bare Island area, or the impact that dredging adjacent to this site will have. Hence, these assessments
    are not relevant. The plume and sediment concentration modelling estimates that most of the sediment deposition
    arising from the proposal would be confined to an area within 300 m of the dredging area and it is estimated
    that the depth of the sediment will be a maximum of 0.3 cm. I saw no description given regarding the width
    of the dredged area.

    Statements are made in the environmental assessment documents that the dredging worksites are
    located the following distances from the following important seagrass and rocky reef aquatic ecosystems:
    • 850 m southwest of the Astrolabe Cove deep reef habitat;
    • 525 m west of the Bare Island bombora reef extension;
    • 700 m northeast of Watts Reef;
    However, no map of these reef systems is given. Based on the only maps shown in the environmental assessment
    documents and our knowledge of the underwater terrain, we dispute that the cable exit area is greater than
    300 metres from important seagrass and rocky reef aquatic systems. I also highlight that the diagram given
    of areas of seagrass in Fig 8-8, with seagrass in yellow, is incomplete. Sea grass is also found in the areas
    that appear dark green on the satellite photos shown in Figs 8-2 and 8-3.

    Based on the noise asssessment diagram below (Fig 8-9), I can’t understand why the decision was made in the
    first place to run the cable adjacent to Bare Island and up Bunnerong Rd. It would be far more logical for this
    cable to exit at Molineux Point, especially since it seems to finish at the power station at corner of Bunnerong Rd
    and Foreshore Drive. This would be further inside the Bay and not interfere with an area well known (to divers)
    for its amazing marine diversity.

    To finish, I attach some photos taken thismorning that I think highlight the impact the current dredging activities
    are having on Botany Bay today, taken at Little Congwong Beach.

    Please call me on xxxxxx if you would like to discuss any of the above further. You are very weclome to visit us
    if you would like to see photos of some of the “listed” pipe fish, pipe horses, sea horses and weedy sea dragons
    taken exactly where the cable is to be laid based on these diagrams. We would very much like to take you diving
    there if you are a qualified diver. You would see things you are actually unlikely to see elsewhere and for which
    Bare Island is renown. My favourite is the Red Indian Fish. While it took about 50 dives here before I saw one,
    I know where to look for them right where the cable is proposed to be laid.

  2. admin says:

    From: laperouse
    To: peter.garrett.mp@aph.gov.au
    Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 1:00 PM
    Subject: Assessment of Threat to Weedy Seadragon – Botany Bay Cable

    Dear Peter,

    I write regarding Bare Island and the proposed amendment to the Botany Bay Cable Project
    where DREDGING and not Trenching will occur as part of the process.

    I believe the threat to Weedy Seadragons in particular has not been adequately assessed
    and refer you to work that has recently been published on these
    creatures (listed under the EPBC Act).

    To give a brief overview of current research please start
    with: http://www.sims.org.au/research/Booth-UTS-seadragonsuts.cfm

    The comments made regarding marine mammals being observed around the
    Heads and rarely elsewhere in Botany Bay is nonsense to people who live
    around here. The problem we have is getting publicity when they are around.
    For some reason – not hard to guess at – the Dept of Environment and Climate
    Change puts out media releases for whale sightings in Sydney Harbour
    but don’t do the same for Botany Bay.

    Would you please apply the EPBC Act to this development and ensure
    that the actions are scrutinised by your Department. The development
    slipped under the radar when it was first proposed but when Energy
    Australia start work there will lots of people coming out of the woodwork
    asking how did this get approved, why didn’t the cable go the most direct
    route via Molineux Point, and why given the number of listed species
    affected isn’t it being scrutinised.

    Regards,
    Lynda Newnam
    resident, La Perouse

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