Showing posts with label marine life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marine life. Show all posts

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

A trio of Great Barrier Reef Foundation directors decline to appear before a senate committee inquiry

On 19 June 2018, the Senate referred the 2018-19 Budget measure Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report on 15 August 2018.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation made a written submission on 2 July 2018.

Yesterday it sent one of it newest directors (who apparently joined the board in the second half of 2017) and its managing director to give evidence before the inquiry.

However, three directors are seeking to avoid attending this inquiry  - John M Schubert (Chair), Grant King and Paul Greenfield.

This unwillingness is likely to be less about scheduling problems and more about close associations with petroleum, gas, mining* and finance industries, the foundation's membership list as well as the identity of donors who gave over $1.4 million to the foundation in 2017.

Three directors of a Great Barrier Reef charity entrusted with almost half a billion dollars in public money have refused to give evidence to a Senate inquiry scrutinising the controversial deal, raising the prospect they will be forced to appear.

Confidential Senate committee documents seen by Fairfax Media show that despite being offered five dates at which to attend the inquiry, the directors of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation say they are unavailable for questioning, variously citing overseas travel commitments, medical appointments, board meetings and other unspecified engagements.

The inquiry was launched following the Turnbull government’s decision to grant the small, business-focused charity $443 million to help rescue the reef.  The foundation has previously said it would “fully co-operate” with the probe.

The contentious Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant is to be spent on projects such as water quality improvements.

The Senate committee had specifically requested their attendance. The trio comprises the organisation’s chair John Schubert and board members Grant King and Paul Greenfield. Mr King is president of the Business Council of Australia and Dr Greenfield chairs the foundation’s scientific committee.

The foundation has advised that managing director Anna Marsden and another director, John Gunn, will give evidence.

The grant was awarded without a tender process and the government’s own expert agencies were not invited to apply.

The foundation plans to use the grant to leverage additional funds from the private sector.….

Fairfax Media understands the committee will ask the directors to find suitable dates to give evidence and advise them that the committee has the power to summon witnesses. According to the Parliament website, Senate committees rarely need to exercise such powers as witnesses are “normally very willing to place their views and the information they possess before the Senate to assist in an understanding of issues”…..

details of the deal show the foundation will receive almost $45 million to cover administration costs incurred by disbursing the funds. Fairfax Media previously reported the foundation would receive an upfront payment of $22.5 million plus interest. The recently published grant agreement shows the interest will be capped at $22 million, and any additional interest will be spent on reef projects.

The agreement also shows many aspects of the deal will remain confidential, including the strategy used by the foundation to attract private sector funds.

Greens oceans spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson criticised the secrecy and questioned the influence businesses would exert over how the grant was spent.
“How much of it is going to be used to promote the companies and essentially greenwash some of these businesses that are key polluters?” he said.

Businesses involved in the foundation include heavy polluters such as AGL, Peabody Energy, Shell, Rio Tinto and Qantas.

In a statement, the department said it accepted that the foundation “does not wish information about who it might approach or the strategies it might employ in its fundraising to be made public”.

The administration costs were “ reasonable given the scale of the grant” and any entity, including a government agency, would need adequate funds for such purposes, it said.

The department said the attendance at Senate hearings "is a matter for the foundation".

* The Great Barrier Reef Foundation classes Rio Tinto's RTFM Wakmatha (a Post Panamax bulk carrier on the Weipa to Gladstone run) as the foundation's research vessel in its so-called mission to save the reef.


As of 7.35pm 31 July 2018 the transcript of yesterday's public hearing has not been published.

However, mainstream media is reporting that Ms. Marsden gave evidence that in April 2018 Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull and Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg met privately with the Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, John Schubert.

At this meeting an unsolicited and unscrutinised offer of over $45 million as a lump sum grant was made to Schubert as chair of the foundation.

This private meeting goes a long way towards explaining Schubert's reluctance to be questioned during this Senate inquiry.

Three former bankers meeting to carve out a large chunk of taxpayer dollars, probably felt comfortable enough to speak freely on a number of subjects.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Australian Biosecurity: here we go again.....

The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources from 21.9.15 to 27.10.17 
and from 6.12.17 to 20.12.17 was Nationals MP for New England Barnaby 

The current Agriculture and Water Resources Minister since 20.12.17 is 
Nationals MP for Maranoa David Littleproud, a former banker who has been 
in federal parliament for less than two years.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection from 23.12.14 onwards 
and Minister for Home Affairs since 20.12.17 is Liberal MP for Dickson 
Peter Dutton.

These three men between them have brought Australian biosecurity to its 
knees and kept it there.

Funding cuts, staffing cuts and poorly planned reorganisation made sure a 
failing biosecurity system ensued.

The story so far.......

ABC News, 21 February 2017:

Quarantine staff feared three years ago staff cuts would threaten the 
biosecurity of Australia's multi-million-dollar agricultural industries.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) surveyed 300 of its 
members in 2014 and found two thirds said "Australia's biosecurity 
has become worse or significantly worse over the past decade due 
to declining standards and increasing risks".

The figures have been reviewed as the Queensland Government 
moves to spend about $15 million on south-east prawn farms while 
white spot disease is traced and eradicated.

It is unknown what caused the white spot disease outbreak that has 
shut down the Logan River prawn farms, where prawns with a combined 
value of $25 million have been euthanased, but tests have shown white 
spot on imported frozen prawns from Asia.

Tight budget puts pressure on capacity

CPSU deputy national secretary Rupert Evans said the clear view of 
members was that budget cuts, the adoption of a risk-based approach, 
and industry self-regulation would lead to more biosecurity incursions.

"Our members would be saddened and even gutted that they might be 
proven right," he said.

The biosecurity approach is based on risk analysis and shared 
responsibility between governments and industry under the 
Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity.

A review of the IGAB found a tight fiscal environment for governments 
had placed significant pressure on biosecurity budgets and their 
capacity to meet biosecurity commitments.

Not enough people on job

The union said it worried about the impact of efficiency measures.

"In 2013-14 there was a more than 10 per cent cut to the budget to 
Department of Agriculture biosecurity, and it was said at the time, this 
was going to lead to not enough people to do the job," Mr Evans said.

"Another part of risk-based intervention is that it needs to be based on 
sound and unbiased evidence, not just on simply reducing costs.

Inspector-General of Biosecurity, Review report no. 2017–18/01, December 
2017, excerpt:

In 2016–17, the major WSD outbreak in Queensland prawn farms led to a 
six-month suspension of uncooked prawn imports into Australia. Very 
high levels of WSSV were found in imported uncooked prawns, destined 
for retail outlets across the country, which had already passed, Australia’s 
border biosecurity controls. This indicated a major failure of Australia’s 
biosecurity system, which was not providing an appropriate level of 

During this review, I found several deficiencies in the management of the 
biosecurity risk of uncooked prawn imports, with broader implications for 
Australia’s biosecurity risk management more generally. I found that 
specific policy elements and their implementation had sowed the seeds 
of failure many years before, while progressive and cumulative acts, 
omissions and systemic factors at many levels exacerbated the risks over 
time. Many of these failings have been swiftly addressed by the department 
and other stakeholders, but more needs to be done to manage the biosecurity 
risks of prawn imports in the future. I have made recommendations to improve 
this biosecurity risk management framework and its ability to deal with 
ongoing and emerging challenges. Long-term adequate resourcing will be a 
key success factor in this endeavour.

The importation of uncooked prawns and other seafood into Australia will 
continue to pose significant and changing challenges for the department 
and industry. The recent WSD outbreak in Queensland, and the subsequent 
findings of massive importation of WSSV-infected prawns, despite previous 
import requirements intended to keep this virus out, highlight the need for the department to remain vigilant, proactively review and update import requirements and policies, and maintain excellent communication with both government and industry stakeholders. Above all, detecting and deterring deliberate or inadvertent failures to implement biosecurity risk management policies effectively must be a priority. Governments and aquatic industries must cooperate to resource and implement these efforts. Failure to do so will imperil the future development of a sustainable and profitable aquaculture sector in Australia.

ABC News, 2 July 2018:

A highly destructive virus has again been detected in supermarket prawns 
despite tightened import restrictions introduced after a disease outbreak 
decimated south-east Queensland's prawn farming industry.

The shock results come as a Four Corners investigation reveals how some 
ruthless seafood importers have been deliberately evading Australia's 
biosecurity defences in a hunt for profit, exploiting a quarantine regime 
identified as "remarkably naive" in a top-level inquiry.

The revelations raise troubling questions about the nature of Australia's preparedness to combat a slew of exotic diseases and pests that have 
the potential to wreak carnage on the economy.

Brian Jones, former adviser to the Inspector-General of Biosecurity, 
said the incursion of white spot disease in 2016 "won't be the last".

"The Government is not fulfilling its duty to protect the border," he said.
In the face of soaring international trade, scientists, industry executives 
and former government officials have told Four Corners that Australia's 
biosecurity defences have been simply inadequate…..

In a scathing review Mr Jones co-authored, the Inspector-General found the devastating outbreak of white spot was "a major failure of Australia's 
biosecurity system".

Critical to this failure was a policy decision that allowed seafood importers 
to unpack shipping containers into cold stores unsupervised by any 
government officials.

The policy afforded rogue players days and sometimes weeks to disguise 
dodgy consignments from inspectors, including by substituting diseased 
prawns for clean ones.

The Inspector-General found the department had placed "too much trust 
in importers to do the right thing".

"The department demonstrated a remarkable level of naivety about the 
potential for importers to wilfully circumvent import conditions for any 
class of prawns that required viral testing."

The department conceded to Four Corners there were "significant 
shortcomings in its handling of this issue", and insisted it had "taken 
substantial action to address them".

Import conditions were tightened midway through last year after a 
six-month trade suspension was lifted.

As of July 2017, no containers could be opened except by biosecurity 

Yet the virus — which poses no harm to humans — has reared its head 

In April, Queensland officials identified the virus in the wild, at locations 
in the northern reaches of Moreton Bay.

Then, in late May, the Department of Agriculture quietly released a note 
that said 12 consignments of prawns — stopped at the wharves under 
the new "enhanced" regime — had tested positive for the disease.

Fresh testing reveals white spot

Now, Four Corners can reveal the virus is still getting past the 
department's frontline.

Testing conducted for the program found traces of the virus present in 
30 per cent of prawn samples purchased from a range of supermarket 
outlets in the south-east Queensland area.

The samples were examined by University of the Sunshine Coast 
professor Wayne Knibb, an expert in the genetics of marine animals. 
He tested green prawns from 10 major retail outlets.

"We found about a third of the material that we looked had evidence 
of white spot DNA in it," he said.

Professor Knibb's testing has been independently verified by a separate 

"Clearly, if we can find in a very limited sample 30 per cent of samples 
that were in the history connected or in contact with the virus, then 
clearly we're playing with fire here," he said.

"We have a route of a virus that is a particularly dangerous virus and 
shown worldwide just how destructive it can be. It's damaged whole 
national economies, and it's cost billions of dollars."

ABC TV “Four Corners”, 2 July 2018:

Four Corners has confirmed that supermarket-bought prawns are still 
being used by recreational fishers on the Logan River upstream from 
prawn farms…..

 It has been put to us that some front-line officers working for the 
Department over the past decade have engaged in any or several of 
the following: corrupt conduct including the acceptance of financial 
benefits from importers, and the extortion of some importers in return 
for financial benefits. Is the Department's aware of any cases of this 
nature or similar in the past decade?

All allegations of corruption in this area of our business are referred 
to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI). 
We cannot comment on current or ongoing investigations for 
operational security reasons. ACLEI have investigated a number of 
matters involving corrupt conduct of departmental staff and publish 
all results on their website.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The political endorsements of extinction by Turnbull, Berejiklian and Palaszczuk governments continue

Wild fish stocks in Australian waters shrank by about a third in the decade to 2015, declining in all regions except strictly protected marine zones, according to data collected by scientists and public divers.

The research, based on underwater reef monitoring at 533 sites around the nation and published in the Aquatic Conservation journal, claims to be the first large-scale independent survey of fisheries. It found declining numbers tracked the drop in total reported catch for 213 Australian fisheries for the 1992-2014 period.

The biomass of larger fish fell 36 per cent on fished reefs during 2005-15 and dropped 18 per cent in marine park zones allowing limited fishing, the researchers said. There was a small increase in targeted fish species in zones that barred fishing altogether.
"Most of the numbers are pretty shocking," said David Booth, a marine ecologist at the University of Technology Sydney. “This paper really nails down the fact that fishing or the removal of large fish is one of the causes” of their decline.

Over-fished stocks include the eastern jackass morwong, eastern gemfish, greenlip abalone, school shark, warehou and the grey nurse shark. The morwong catch, once as common as flathead in the trawl fishery, dived about 95 per cent from the 1960s to 109 tonnes in the 2015-16 year to become basically a bycatch species……

…Peter Whish-Wilson, the Greens ocean spokesman, said the new research was largely based on actual underwater identification – including the Reef Life Survey using citizen scientists. It suggests fishing stocks "are not as rosy as the industry or government would like us all to think".

"This study also shows that marine parks can be successful fisheries management tools but we simply don’t have enough of them or enough protection within them to deliver widespread benefits," he said.

"The new Commonwealth Marine Reserves are woefully inadequate and won’t do anything to stop the continuing decline in the health of our oceans."

Humane Society International Australia (HSI), represented by EDO NSW, is seeking independent review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) decision to approve a lethal shark control program in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

HSI has lodged an appeal in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) which will require a full reconsideration of the approval of the shark control program. The 10 year lethal control program targets 26 shark species in the Marine Park, including threatened and protected species. The appeal is based on the public interest in protecting the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.....

As apex predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of the Great Barrier Reef. HSI is concerned about the ongoing impacts caused by the use of lethal drumlines which are known to impact not only on shark species but also dolphins, turtles and rays. HSI is calling for non-lethal alternatives for bather protection.

Forest covering an area more than 50 times the size of the combined central business districts of Sydney and Melbourne is set to be bulldozed near the Great Barrier Reef, official data shows, triggering claims the Turnbull government is thwarting its $500 million reef survival package.

Figures provided to Fairfax Media by Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy show that 36,600 hectares of land in Great Barrier Reef water catchments has been approved for tree clearing and is awaiting destruction.

The office of Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg did not say if his government was comfortable with the extent of land clearing approved in Queensland, or if it would use its powers to cancel permits.

The approvals were granted by the Queensland government over the past five years. About 9000 hectares under those approvals has already been cleared.

Despite the dire consequences of land clearing for the Great Barrier Reef – and billions of dollars of public money spent over the years to tackle the problem – neither Labor nor the government would commit to intervening to stop the mass deforestation.

Freedom of information laws are an important mechanism for making government decisions transparent and accountable. But the existence of such laws doesn’t mean access to information is easy.

It took a three-year legal process for the Humane Society International (HSI), represented by EDO NSW, to access documents about how the Australian Government came to accredit a NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects

The NSW policy in question allowed significant biodiversity trade-offs (that is, permitting developers to clear habitat in return for compensatory actions elsewhere) seemingly inconsistent with national biodiversity offset standards. HSI wanted to know how the national government could accredit a policy that didn’t meet its own standards.

Despite Australia being a signatory to important international environmental agreements and accepting international obligations to protect biodiversity, in recent years it has been proposed that the national government should delegate its environmental assessment and approval powers to the states, creating a ‘one stop shop’ for developers.

The original FOI request in this case was submitted in early 2015, during a time when Federal and State and Territory Governments were actively in consultation on handing over federal approval powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This was to be done in the name of efficiency, with the assurance that national standards would be upheld by the states.
Over 60 documents finally accessed by HSI show this was a false promise. The documents reveal that federal bureaucrats in the environment department identified key areas of the NSW policy that differed from federal standards.

Despite this, the policy was accredited.

Accreditation meant that the NSW policy could be used when approving developments with impacts on nationally threatened species found in NSW, instead of applying the more rigorous national offsets policy.

In the time it took to argue for access to the documents, NSW developed a new biodiversity offsets policy as part of broader legislative reforms for biodiversity and land clearing. Unfortunately, the new NSW biodiversity offsets policy continues to entrench many of the weaker standards. For example, mine site rehabilitation decades in the future can count as an offset now; offset requirements may be discounted if other socio-economic factors are considered; and supplementary measures - such as research or paying cash - are an alternative to finding a direct offset (that is, protecting the actual plant or animal that has been impacted by a development).

While there have been some tweaks to the new policy for nationally listed threatened species, there is still a clear divergence in standards. The new policy, and the new NSW biodiversity laws, are now awaiting accreditation by the Australian Government.

How our unique and irreplaceable biodiversity is managed (and traded off) is clearly a matter of public interest. And on the eve of a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the federal environment department agreed and released over 60 documents. While it was a heartening win for transparency and the value of FOI laws, it was a depressing read when these documents revealed the political endorsement of extinction.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Monday, 7 May 2018

Early end to NSW North Coast shark nets trial and Berejiklian Government urged not to reinstate the controversial strategy.

Echo NetDaily, 3 May 2018:

Local Greens MP Tamara Smith and animal rights activists have welcomed the early end to the North Coast shark nets trial and urged the State Government not to reinstate the controversial strategy.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair announced on Wednesday that the nets would begin coming out immediately owing to the early start of the whale migration season in the region.

The migration officially started on May 1, a month earlier than last year.
Ms Smith said on Thursday that the cessation of the trial should be permanent, and that other measures should be used to enhance community safety.

‘There is no scientific evidence and little community support for putting shark nets back in the waters off the North Coast,’ Ms Smith said in a press release.

‘The data from the North Coast Shark Net Trial is yet more evidence that the shark netting program in NSW does little to keep people safe in the water but takes a terrible toll on local marine life.

‘I support shark spotting by trained personnel such as Shark Watch volunteers or Surf Life Savers, using binoculars and drones.’

According to departmental statistics from the trial, just two of the 132 marine creatures caught in the nets between November 23, 2017 and March 31 this year was a target shark.

Among the other animals caught were a small number of threatened species, including Green Turtles and Great Hammerhead sharks, as well as 23 rays.

Forty-nine of the animals caught in the nets were killed…..

If any reader has a mind to support the permanent removal of these shark nets they can write, phone or email:

NSW Premier Hon. Gladys Berejiklian
GPO Box 5341
PH (02) 8574 5000

NSW Deputy Premier Hon. John Barilaro
GPO Box 5341
PH (02) 8574 5150

NSW Minister for the Environment Gabrielle Upton
GPO Box 5341
PH (02)  8574 6107

Sunday, 22 April 2018

How long can the world sustain the current level of commercial and recreational fishing?

A vast majority of Australian households have seafood meals throughout the year.

According to the Dept. of Agriculture Australia has the world’s third largest Exclusive Economic Zone. However, the low productivity of our marine waters limits wild capture fisheries production

This meant that by 2015 an estimated 70 per cent of the seafood we consumed was imported from other fisheries around the world.

In 2016 the United Nations expected fish stocks in oceans and inland waters to significantly contribute to feeding a global population predicted to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 – even though at least 31.4 percent of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished and, there has been a general decline in global fish take since 1996. [Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, 2016 The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture]

Since then there have been reports that competition with fishing fleets for the remaining Chinook salmon has led to a resident population of Orca experiencing sustained near starvation and studies are now showing that in human-dominated marine ecosystems loss of populations and species is occurring.

Despite the global situation Australians are still being encouraged to eat more seafood, but how long can this continue?

In 2018 another study was published which looked at ocean processes over the next 282 years and this study predicts that the global fish catch will continue its current decline.

Phys Org, 19 April 2018:

Climate change is rapidly warming the Earth and altering ecosystems on land and at sea that produce our food. In the oceans, most added heat from climate warming is still near the surface and will take centuries to work down into deeper waters. But as this happens, it will change ocean circulation patterns and make ocean food chains less productive.

In a recent study, I worked with colleagues from five universities and laboratories to examine how climate warming out to the year 2300 could affect marine ecosystems and global fisheries. We wanted to know how sustained warming would change the supply of key nutrients that support tiny plankton, which in turn are food for fish.

We found that warming on this scale would alter key factors that drive marine ecosystems, including winds, water temperatures, sea ice cover and ocean circulation. The resulting disruptions would transfer nutrients from surface waters down into the deep ocean, leaving less at the surface to support plankton growth.

As marine ecosystems become increasingly nutrient-starved over time, we estimate global fish catch could be reduced 20 percent by 2300, and by nearly 60 percent across the North Atlantic. This would be an enormous reduction in a key food source for millions of people.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Environmental disaster in NSW a herald of things to come given impacts of climate change are being felt in coastal communities and coastal waters

The Newscastle Herald, 1 February 2018:

THERE are fears thousands of “ravenous” kingfish that escaped a state-government jointly run fish farm off Port Stephens will devastate the marine park's wild fish population.
Up to 17,000 predatory yellowtail kingfish, used to being fed automatically, are now hunting in the marine park waters after 20,000 escaped last week from a fish-farm sea cage, described as a "fortress pen", that was destroyed in rough seas. About 3000 fish have been recaptured.
The future of the controversial joint NSW government and Tasmania-based Huon Aquaculture project, which is 18 months into a five-year research trial, is under a cloud following the loss of almost half its stock with a retail value of more than $2 million.
Conservation groups and local tourism operators described the multi-million dollar project as a “disaster” threatening the pristine marine park's delicate ecosystem.
Marine Parks’ Association chairman and whale watching tour operator Frank Future said fisheries staff “repeatedly assured” the community the pens could handle waves up to 15 metres.
According to Huon, the “fortress pens” were designed to withstand “high energy, exposed sites, frequently receiving storms swells and gale force winds”.
“The pen that had the release was mangled and now we have thousands of mature kingfish released into the wild, nothing will be safe from them,” Mr Future said.
“They are voracious feeders and from what I understand they are ravenous. Once they realise they won't get any food in the form of pellets they'll be eating anything they can find. I don't want to think about the impact on wild species.”
The commercial-scale kingfish trial at Providence Bay - the result of an existing offshore research lease being boosted to 62 hectares - includes five pens, each about 60 metres across, two that were stocked with 20,000 fish each. There is capacity for 12 sea pens in the trial......