Western Australia’s environmental watchdog says the protection of Exmouth Gulf needs to be ‘enhanced’.
- A long awaited report into the cumulative impacts on the Exmouth Gulf has been released
- The EPA recommends the Gulf should receive more protection from the government
- The EPA supports the creation of an integrated management approach
The Exmouth Gulf neighbours the world-famous Ningaloo Reef, 1,250km north of Perth, and is recognised as a significant location for both locals and visitors.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has released a long-awaited report to the state government into the cumulative impacts of proposed activities and developments on the Exmouth Gulf.
Several projects in the Exmouth region have been put on ice while awaiting the survey.
Chairman Matthew Tonts said there were three main recommendations from the EPA.
The EPA has also made recommendations that developments should be assessed on their compatibility with the gulf and there should be an integrated management approach to the region.
Protect Ningaloo director Paul Gamblin said the EPA had made it very clear the gulf needed to be protected and it had indicated areas of potential development that should be safeguarded.
Gulf ‘under increasing pressure’
While the Ningaloo Reef was world heritage listed in 2011, the Exmouth Gulf has not been awarded the same protection, despite its proximity.
Exmouth Gulf provides a foothold to several threatened species and has been dubbed the nursery of Ningaloo.
The EPA report said it recognised Exmouth Gulf is under increasing pressure from uncoordinated human activities and development.
“The EPA recommends a very high level of protection for the eastern and southern portion of Exmouth Gulf and adjacent hinterland areas, and that the establishment of marine and terrestrial protected areas is co-designed with traditional owners as partners in its future protection and management,” the report said.
Professor Tonts said the EPA supported the proposed Giralia National Park which was nominated by the state government as part of its Plan For Our Parks.
The report recommended a high level of protection for sensitive areas such as Qualing Pool, Camerons Cave, Cape Range Subterranean Waterway, and the islands of Exmouth Gulf.
EPA says proponents should consider other locations
The EPA recommended that any future activities and development in the Gulf must be compatible with the protection of the social, environmental, and cultural values of the region.
Professor Tonts said proponents need to carefully consider their site selection.
“Before proponents consider locating their activities to the Exmouth Gulf they should give consideration to what are the other alternative locations,” he said.
The EPA chair said proponents should consider sites which are already developed or disturbed before choosing Exmouth.
The report states “the features of Exmouth Gulf that make it suitable for many proposed activities and developments are also present in other Western Australian coastal locations”.
In the cumulative impact report, the EPA said avoidance of environmental disturbance should be a key consideration for all new developments in site selection, and proponents should be able to demonstrate explicit regard for the protection of Aboriginal heritage, as well as the value of dark sky and low atmospheric pollution.
Mr Gamblin said industry should be located where industry already is.
“We shouldn’t be opening up new areas like Exmouth Gulf to heavy industry,” he said.
Gascoyne Gateway seeks to build Australia’s first ‘green port’ in the Exmouth Gulf.
CEO Michael Edwards said he supported the recommendation.
“There’s been an immense amount of haphazard activities that have taken place in the past, we know that, so that’s why we’ve always been so transparent with what we’re doing and certainly very proud in pushing forward with all the environmental benefits that our project will provide,” he said.
Professor Tonts said an integrated management approach should be adopted to address the multiple uses and cumulative pressures on the Gulf.
Integrated management approaches have been used at the Cockburn Sound, Leschenault, Peel Harvey and Vasse Geographe catchment areas.
Professor Tonts said if these recommendations were not adhered to, the worst case scenario would be an ongoing decline of Exmouth Gulf’s environment.
Mr Gamblin said Protect Ningaloo would like to be part of this ‘integrated management approach’ and advocate for the gulf to be included as part of the world heritage listing.
Mr Edwards said Gascoyne Gateway would also welcome an integrated management approach of Exmouth and the Exmouth Gulf.
“The entire coast needs to be managed well, so any push in that direction is absolutely appropriate and we’d salute any move to that or any improvement in that process,” he said.
“The United Nations themselves have come out and said the greatest risk to the Ningaloo Reef is climate change and what we’re actually doing … is going headfirst in tackling climate change and that doesn’t just impact reefs, that impacts humankind on this globe.”
Gascoyne Gateway said it would continue to seek environmental approval from the EPA for its project.
Report now in the hands of Environment Minister
Mr Gamblin said with the report now in the hands of Environment Minister Amber Jade-Sanderson, she must steer Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo towards a much safer and certain future.
“It’s very important for the minister to make clear that the government won’t contemplate any industrial development in the area and we think this report from the EPA provides very strong support for that direction,” he said.
The Environment Minister said the Exmouth Gulf was a significant and valuable asset for all West Australians.
“Understanding potential cumulative impacts on the social, cultural and environmental values of the gulf ensures we are equipped with the right knowledge to complete environmental assessments,” she said.