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Tuesday, 2 January 2007


No plans for disposal of toxic bitterns;
Essential nutrient flow patterns ignored

Plans to build a massive salt mine along the eastern edge of Exmouth Gulf are based on fatally flawed assumptions that could destroy the area’s sensitive ecosystem.

Environmental management plans released by the mine's proponents have not accounted for the essential nutrient regeneration of the marine ecosystem that is regularly provided by heavy rainfall events.

And the company, Straits Resources, has also failed to detail how it will dispose of vast quantities of toxic bitterns that are the by-product of its proposed solar salt project.

Straits is seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to build one of the World's largest salt mines over 411 square kilometres along the eastern edge of the Gulf behind the environmentally sensitive mangrove fringe and adjacent salt flats and marshes.

The area is one of the nation’s most biologically productive environments and the plans are opposed by a major alliance of environmental and commercial and recreational fishing groups known as the Halt The Salt Alliance (www.haltthesalt.org.au).

Alliance spokesman and Conservation Council of WA director Chris Tallentire today revealed the Alliance had found fundamental flaws in the Environmental Review Management Plan (ERMP) released by Straits for public comment under February 26.

"There are fundamental, critical shortcomings with the plan that should lead the EPA to stop the project due to the massive risks involved," Mr Tallentire said.

"Firstly, the company has failed to take into account the reliance of the eastern Gulf's intertidal system and marine population on hinterland surface water flow as an ongoing source of nutrients."

"We know that the historical pattern of cyclonic activity and flood-out events that occur every two-and-a-half years help the mangrove, seaweed and seagrass habitats to function like a battery, fixing and gradually re-supplying nutrients and energy.

"By building a system of 70 kilometre rock retaining walls, Straits would radically alter this natural drainage and replenishment pattern and could starve much of the ecosystem of its vital natural resources."

The second fatal flaw in Straits' plan is its failure to detail how it will dispose of the highly toxic bitterns produced through its salt extraction process."

“If this material entered the Gulf ecosystem through seepage or wall failure it could kill vast numbers of marine creatures.

"Straits knows it cannot dispose of the bitterns into the marine environment, so in desperation it wants approval to store them until new technology may become available to allow discharge not to occur."

"They have a massive waste disposal problem and their only plan is to hide it in the hope that an alternative comes along in the future."

"This is not a responsible, sustainable solution and cannot be entertained by any government or regulatory body serious about protecting the environment for future generations."

The MG Kailis Group, one of the largest commercial fishing operations and employers in the Exmouth region, and Recfishwest, the State’s peak recreational fishing body, back the concerns.

MG Kailis Group Compliance and Projects Manager Stephen Hood and Recfishwest Executive Director Frank Prokop said the ERMP had failed to alleviate their numerous concerns with the proposal.

“This mine poses a massive risk to the existing sustainable fishing, aquaculture, pearling and tourism industries of the region. The effects would be irreversible and ecosystem changing and aren’t worth the risk,” Mr Hood said.

“Fishing and aquaculture are highly dependent on the maintenance of high water quality and of the natural ecological processes driving marine productivity. All these activities will be threatened by the proposed project, yet the ERMP dismisses the risks as ‘relatively minor’,” Mr Prokop said.

The ERMP has also confirmed the following:

  • Both commercial and recreational fisheries will see a reduction in recruitment as a consequence of changes to habitat structure and foodwebs resulting from this proposal.
  • Dredging and ship-loading activities could seriously degrade critical habitats for threatened Dugongs and Green Turtles.
  • The project will massively modify approximately 411 square kilometres of land with bunds and hypersaline ponds.
  • There are no decommissioning plans or commitments detailed, leaving the WA taxpayer exposed to the astronomical costs of restoration.
  • The excavated inland harbour may expose significant areas of acid generating sulphides as well as removing mangrove and algal mat habitat.
  • The silty bottom of the eastern Gulf is likely to be mobilised by repeated dredging operations smothering marine producer habitats.
  • The 300 metre-long Panamax bulk carriers, barges and service vessels are likely to increasingly disturb and disrupt the use of the area by megafauna such as Humpback Whales, Dugongs and Sea-Turtles. The international shipping may transport exotic marine pests from high-risk regions.

The Halt the Salt Alliance will be making a detailed submission to the EPA along with many other community and industry based organisations that share its concerns about the potential impact of the mine on the environment and existing sustainable industries.

“I urge everyone to go to our campaign website at www.haltthesalt.org.au to find out more about the massive scale and potential impact of this project,” Mr Tallentire said.

Media note:

Halt the Salt Alliance spokerspersons Chris Tallentire, Stephen Hood and Frank Prokop will be available today at 10am for interview at the Conservation Council, Lotteries House, Delhi Street, West Perth.

Media contacts

Chris Tallentire, Conservation Council of WA 0418 955 191

Stephen Hood, MG Kailis Group 0418 901 048

Frank Prokop, RecfishWest 0419 949 118



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