The release by the Albanese government of huge swathes of Commonwealth waters for offshore oil and gas exploration, including three in established marine parks, is deeply concerning for these sensitive environments and at odds with the government’s own climate targets, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.
Two of the releases are within the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park in the Timor Sea off the Northern Territory, an area known for its rich sponge gardens, corals and a diversity of fish life. Marine turtles also use this area for feeding and breeding.
A third release crosses into the Kimberley Marine Park, off the coast of Western Australia, which is used by humpback whales for breeding and calving. It is also a nursery area for three dolphin species – the Australian snubfin dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the spotted bottlenose dolphin.
Another two releases are close to other marine parks – one on the boundary of the Montebello Marine Park and another close to the boundary of Gascoyne Marine Park off the coast of WA.
AMCS Marine Parks campaign manager Dr Cat Dorey said the direct impacts of oil and gas exploration are significant on marine habitats and species, and a Senate Seismic enquiry held in 2020 recommended no seismic exploration in or next to marine parks.
“Seismic testing is the first step in oil and gas exploration in our oceans and there is growing evidence that it harms marine life,” said Dr Dorey.
“The sound from seismic blasting used to locate oil and gas reserves is extremely loud and can travel for hundreds to thousands of kilometres. It can kill or injure marine creatures close by, and damage the hearing of whales and dolphins, species that rely on sound to navigate, communicate, and find food.
“Of course, the infrastructure and increased shipping traffic that comes after deposits are found are also a huge problem for marine life. Oil and gas exploration and development do not belong in marine parks, which are supposed to protect critical marine habitats and species.
“By opening up these parks to exploration, the Albanese government risks treating these areas as paper parks only. Considering the sorry state of our environment as recently identified in the release of the 2021 State of the Environment report, the Government needs to be clear on what its intentions are: protecting our unique marine environment or exploiting it.”
Opening up new oil and gas is also inconsistent with keeping warming below 1.5C, an all -important temperature threshold for our coral reefs, Dr Dorey added.
“Devastating climate impacts are already being felt in our marine environments,” she said.
“Another marine heatwave caused the fourth mass bleaching event in seven years on the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year, and there was a simultaneous bleaching event in the Ningaloo Marine Park.
“The acreage release off southeastern Australia is right in the epicentre of a global warming hotspot. The southeastern oceans off Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia are warming at 3-4 times the global average, where marine heatwaves are driving the loss of kelp forests and driving species distribution changes.
“We must stop reckless exploitation of our oceans if we are to protect their health and bounty for future generations.”