|Massive development plans for Victoria’s Westernport Bay will expose the area’s globally significant marine and coastal wetlands to potentially huge damage from oil spills, new research shows.
The findings have sparked calls for the Federal Government to launch an immediate environmental assessment of the Victorian Government’s port expansion plans under national conservation laws.
“The new research found that even relatively small amounts of oil spilled from shipping traffic in Westernport could reach local shorelines within minutes and high conservation areas within less than six hours,” Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Simon Branigan said today.
“We aren’t talking about oil tankers, but rather heavy fuel oil and diesel spills from container ships and port support vessels.”
The research modelled six credible oil spill scenarios based on 27 previous oil spill accidents across Australia since 1970. Computer modelling tracked the spills over a two-week period from two locations within Westernport Bay.
“The modelling shows Phillip Island Nature Park is vulnerable to oil spill contamination, and French Island Marine National Park is also at high risk of exposure. It also highlighted the fact that once oil is in the water, it will be hard to stop.
“Both these parks and many other parts of the bay are home to key roosting, feeding and breeding habitats for waterbirds including annual migrants that breed in Russia, China, Japan and Alaska, spending the summer months feeding in the bay,” Mr Branigan said.
The report was commissioned in response to the Victorian Government’s proposal to expand the Port of Hastings into an international container port, increasing shipping traffic from under 100 ships a year to more than 3000.
Such an increase in shipping is likely to heighten the risk of oil spill.
All of Westernport Bay is listed under the international Ramsar Convention. It is home to 32 species of migratory birds protected by international agreements, making its waters and shorelines subject to national environmental laws.
“Westernport Bay is one of Victoria’s richest marine and coastal environments, and we call for the port expansion plans to have the highest level assessment available under national laws as a matter of urgency,” said Mr Branigan.
The Victorian National Parks Association and the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council are calling on federal Labor and the Coalition to commit to a comprehensive and independent assessment using the full force of national environmental laws before any further work or money is spent on expanding the port.
“Westernport is Victoria’s marine playground, a unique tidal bay and wetland of international importance with remarkable environmental and recreational values right on the doorstep of Melbourne,” said Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council spokesperson Chris Chandler.
“We are very concerned that the State Government’s plans to turn Westernport into an international container port will expose the bay to a spill disaster, threatening the area’s rich biodiversity including its beautiful beaches, seagrass meadows, native wildlife such as Little Penguins and Black Swan, as well as highly prized recreational fishing species King George Whiting and Snapper.”
Both groups fear the port expansion will require major dredging, the clearing of mangroves to fill in parts of the bay, and road and rail transport corridors through Gippsland, the Mornington Peninsula and suburban Melbourne.
“Expanding the Port of Hastings poses unacceptable danger to Westernport’s unique environmental, social and recreational values,” Mr Branigan said.
“Any proper assessment must consider environmental impacts, all risks and alternative port locations with links to national transport planning.”
The research was commissioned by the Victorian National Parks Association with the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council, a local community group that has been campaigning against threatened port expansion for 42 years.
Simon Branigan - 0409 0987 278.
Chris Chandler - 0407 705 450.