First the Reef – Now the Alps

This open letter recently submitted on behalf of GEG to Victorian ministers addresses the lack of action on feral horses in the Victorian Alps.

“Eastern Alpine National Park is dying, and Victoria is doing nothing about it.

Feral horses are not only destroying the Alps fragile ecology, plant and animal communities, but the ability to provide a reliable source of water via the slow release of clear, pure water.

[The Australian Alps produce 29% of the Murray Darling’s water, worth about $9.6 billion p.a. As well, since the Snowy River’s diversion as part of the Snowy Scheme, the south eastern slopes of the Eastern Alps are the principle source of its water.]

In a time of climate change, can we afford to ignore this degradation of our major water resource?”

Read the complete letter here

Fire & Biodiversity Forum – 12th March 2015 – 7pm

firebdposter_webBurning issue to be subject of local forum

A public forum on fire will be held on Thursday evening, March 12th at 7pm, at St Mary’s Parish Hall, Bairnsdale to discuss various aspects of fire management including biodiversity loss, forest type, age, fire severity, climate change and public safety, as well options for future management.

The forum, starting at 7.00 pm, will hear from expert speakers including Dr. Chris Taylor, a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute, and Phil Ingamells co-ordinator of the Victorian National Parks Association’s (VNPA) Fire Project.

Dr Chris Taylor is co-author of a recently published scientific study on the relationship between the age of trees and the severity of fires in Mountain Ash forests. This study showed that increasing the area of young Mountain Ash trees can increase the probability of high severity fires in these forests. Dr Taylor will present and discuss the findings of this study and its implications for forest management.

The VNPA’s Fire Project is concerned with improving fire management on all public and private land across the State. Phil Ingamells will outline the dilemmas of fire management, highlight the changes in fire management since the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, and the knowledge that has been gained since that time. He will suggest ways we can improve fire planning and management, so that we can achieve better protection for the community, and better natural protection for our natural areas.

The event will be hosted by the Gippsland Environment Group. President, Mr John Hermans said “we are really excited to be able to present this forum to the people of Bairnsdale and the wider East Gippsland community, as it will give them a chance to understand some of the complexities involved in fire management and hopefully provide some hard learned truths which tend to get forgotten in the rush to ‘burn excessively’ in an attempt to protect ourselves from bushfires”. “This is a great opportunity to hear about some of the latest science coming out of the University of Melbourne, and elsewhere, which can help inform us to make better decisions about fire management and should dispel some myths too” said Mr Hermans. “Anyone with an interest in how fire should be managed, its impact on communities, fuel reduction burning and biodiversity or people just wanting to be better informed about these important issues, are urged to attend”.

The forum is a free event and everyone is welcome.

For further information please phone 0468 395 388.

Stop the Scrapping of the Snowy Scientific Committee

The NSW Government plans to scrap the independent Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC), the only independent scientific body advising on environmental flows for the Snowy River and other rivers affected by the Snowy Scheme.

The NSW legislative assembly has passed a Bill to abolish the SSC and replace it with an advisory committee (with limited functions) controlled by the Minister for Primary Industries. The Bill will be voted on in the legislative council after parliament resumes on the 6th May 2014.

Environment Victoria has established a petition to help retain the SSC. Please sign the petition at asking NSW MPs to save the SSC.

The SSC was belatedly established in January 2008 and despite a serious lack of funding and support from the NSW Government it produced a series of invaluable public reports on the adequacy of environmental flows to the Snowy River. Its first three year term expired in May 2011 and despite government promises at the time has not been re-established.

Despite intergovernmental agreements in 2002 to return 28% to the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam and flows to the upper Snowy above Jindabyne the river is far from saved. The Snowy River in NSW is listed by the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee as an endangered aquatic ecological community. You can view the entire report at:

In the 2014/15 water year the total annual allocation to the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam will be less than 14% whilst the Snowy above Jindabyne Dam in Kosciusko National Park remains severely degraded.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (Snowy Advisory Committee) Bill 2013 will replace the six member independent SSC with a Ministerial controlled advisory committee that:

  • has no requirement for any scientific representatives
  • will have a chair (& all the members) appointed by the Minister for Primary Industries not the Minister for Environment
  • will have a greatly reduced role compared to the SSC advising only on the annual release regime of environmental water whereas the SSC was also required to advise on the adequacy of environmental flows, the programs for restoration of the rivers and catchments and provide an annual public state of environment report
  • removes transparency and accountability from the $425 million taxpayers investment in Snowy River environmental flows
  • will not have confidence of the Snowy communities or the general public

Last year Snowy Hydro Ltd (SHL) with a net profit of $280 million paid out $460 million in dividends to its three government shareholders. NSW with a 58% share of SHL benefited the most. Without the independent oversight of the SSC there is the potential that taxpayer funded environmental water may be diverted for the financial benefit of SHL and the NSW Government.

The restoration of the Snowy River depends on an adequately funded independent Snowy Scientific Committee.

Scathing EPA Report of the Lakes

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has undertaken an investigation of the salinity levels and its impacts on the Gippsland Lakes. The EPA report presented in May 2013 clearly states that the deepening of the entrance by Gippsland Ports (GP) was responsible for the increased salinity of the Gippsland Lakes.

The report outlines that “The Gippsland Lakes are characterised by a strong east to west salinity gradient corresponding to the increased influence of ocean waters. Salinity levels are driven by proximity to the entrance and is produced by the salt water input at the entrance”. The report further states “The lakes have been modified, the entrance has been dredged even deeper, and this has had a profound modification. Increased salinity stimulates the release of dissolved nutrients from the lakes‘ system…the high levels of surface water salinity threatens the surrounding freshwater swamps and wetlands.”

The report explains that the eastern lakes are generally salt stratified, meaning a layer of freshwater resides over the high saline deeper water and that this condition is conducive to the release of nutrients from lake sediments which are then available to feed algal blooms.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by GEG demonstrate that the East Gippsland Shire operated as an agent for GP in applying for funding to investigate developing Lakes Entrance as a deep sea port to service the oil and gas rigs. It is also interesting that in their application to the Shire, GP stated that the entrance was 2.5 metres deep. It is currently being maintained at 6 to 7 metres, twice the depth that the previous dredge vessel ‘April Hamer’ could manage.

The lakes have now been invaded by marine species such as shark, stingray, squid and exotic pests such as the European Shore Crab. Sandworm are now dead, fringing vegetation has been killed and bank erosion has followed.

It is now more important than ever that state and federal governments step in and carry out a complete (environmental, economic and social) audit of the lakes’ and that we move towards establishing a dedicated skills based Gippsland Lakes Management Authority instead of the continual spin generated to assure tourists that all is fine with the lakes’ health whilst they rapidly decline and take the tourist industry and the East Gippsland economy down with it.

More trouble for the Snowy

The NSW Government is proposing to replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee subject to the control and direction of the Minister and funded by Snowy Hydro Ltd.

The Snowy Scientific Committee (established by legislation) had provided the only public accountability and transparency on environmental flows. Now the NSW Government wants to do away with it completely.

Read the full article (at Environment Victoria’s website) – More trouble for the Snowy

Flawed Gippsland Lakes Strategy

The Draft Gippsland Lakes Environmental Strategy prepared by the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee is flawed as it was not based on the international standard for risk management – ISO 31000.

The Gippsland Lakes are Ramsar listed wetlands of international significance. If you’re developing a strategy, policies or a system to manage and mitigate environmental impacts of such an important ecosystem, it must be in line with world’s best practice, based on a reputable international model of risk management.

The strategy does not outline how environmental impacts were identified, assessed and what mitigation strategies will be implemented according to an order of risk heirachy. There is a list of wish-wash aspirational objectives that do not indicate who is responsible for what and have no completion dates. There is no monitoring, auditing or certification of the process by a third party independent body. This clearly goes against the fundamentals of process integrity and continual improvement.

The strategy is only a rehash of existing documentation dumbed down to devaluate signficant environmental issues. For example, the only place you’ll find the word mercury in the entire document is in the reference page. G Fabris and other scientists back in 1999 identified the rising levels of mercury in bream found in the lakes yet there is no mention of the associated health risks or mitigation programs to tackle mercury washing down from disused mines upstream in the catchment. Furthermore there is no mention of the new dolphin species Tursiops australis (the Burrunan dolphin) or that mercury poisoning killed 9 of them in 2008-2009. There is only one paragraph on dredging of the artificial entrance with no mention of the severe impacts caused by the influx of salt water into the lakes. There is no mention of the european shore crab, an exotic invasive species that has entered the lakes and has decimated native species of sandworm and freshwater bivalves.

This entirely flawed process can only come down to the fact that the committee is stacked with members of the business community such as land developers, tourism operators and the ports manager who have commercial interests and steer away from the complex issues of the lakes and the science behind sound environmental management.

Another Gippsland Lakes Strategy

Click on this icon to download the complete submission

The East Gippsland community is “strategied out” and can justifiably consider that the development of yet another Strategy is but a process to give the illusion of progress and that the issues so obviously requiring urgent attention on the lakes will again not be addressed.

That’s the crux of GEG’s submission to the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee’s draft strategy. Heaps of paperwork and years of no action to fix the problems.

The submission further details the main issues of the Gipplsand Lakes including: salinity, water quality, fisheries management, invasive species, Ramsar convention criteria, algal blooms, funding and human health impacts.

DSE to Limit Information

The state government may be happy to use taxpayers’ money to search for a mythical big cat, but apparently it wants to limit information to the public on endangered animals and plants. The Department of Sustainability and Environment is set to purge its website of hundreds of pages of information, potentially including research papers and fact sheets on endangered plant and animal species, weeds and pests and studies of biodiversity and habitat loss. Read more:

Mercury in the Gippsland Lakes

As far back as 1980 state government scientists (J W Glover, G J Bacher & T S Pearce) identified that (the heavy metal) mercury has been accumulating in the Gippsland Lakes. Mercury sources include mining, discharges from Australian Paper’s Maryvale papermill and the fallout from burning coal in the Latrobe Valley. These scientists recommended that further investigation is required to determine the distribution of mercury throughout the lakes, and whether significant quantities of mercury are still entering the lakes or being discharged from the lakes.

In 1998 Dr Graham of the CSIRO in an audit of the Gippsland Lakes ecology made similar recommendations on the need to further investigate mercury in the lake chain. In 1999 G Fabris et al. identified a 58% increase in mercury in the flesh of Black Bream of the Gippsland Lakes. In 2007 nine dolphins were identified to have died of mercury poisoning. Over the next five years a further six of this newly identified dolphin species died which represents a 30% loss of the lakes dolphin population. Throughout this entire period right through to this day there has been no follow-up investigation.

Following extensive communication with the Department of Health (DoH), Foodsafe, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) it appears that there is no monitoring of heavy metals in the Gippsland Lakes or the lakes catchment. Read DoH’s response to GEG raising these concerns – DoH letter (25 June 2012). The “literature review” mentioned in the DoH letter is a 2004 DPI in-house investigation into mercury in Lake Wellington.  GEG has been refused access to this document but consider it to be historic and not a control that the department would make judgment on regarding such a serious public health issue.

Would you trust these departments? Back in 2005 the DoH conducted fish studies in the Maribyrnong River only after the media revealed high levels of (heavy metal) Arsenic is leaching into Port Philip Bay. The EPA did not undertake tests on fish and the last time it tested for Arsenic was back in 1970’s. Check out: The Age – Arsenic Leaked Into River (22 August 2005). According to a 2001 report by consultant Peter Ramsay the EPA has been concerned about arsenic levels in the Maribyrnong since the 1990s. In 1995 it received a report showing arsenic leaching at about 3000 times the standard. “The EPA should have tested the river and fish downstream”, said Andrea Hinwood, an environmental scientist and arsenic expert at Edith Cowan University. “If those levels are going into the river, as a precautionary approach they should do the testing and provide people with some certainty that it’s OK. Those are very high levels.”

Are these government departments doing their job? Are they safeguarding us from the risks associated with consuming heavy metals? Are they doing anything to monitor and protect the environment? It seems not.

Read the full 1980 government scientific report:

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 1: Introduction, Study Area, Sources of Metals, Results & Discussion – 7.3Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 2: Sampling Methods, Analytical Methods, Conclusions, Recommendations & References – 4.1Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 3: Appendices – 4.3Mb)

Lakes Entrance Dredging Impacts

In 2005 Gippsland Ports (the port authority for Gippsland Lakes) undertook an environmental risk assessment of its operations and identified that increasing the depth of the entrance (capital dredging) will have extreme environmental impacts.

Infamous page 34

Page 34 of the Gippsland Ports Safety and Environmental Management Plan states that capital dredging will produce extreme environmental risks such as the alteration of coastal processes (tidal flows) and the disturbance of sediments that cause destruction of marine life. The plan further outlines that there are no current controls for these environmental impacts and additional controls only include government permits which at the end of the day are simply an administrative control. No elimination or substitution of risk was considered and no engineering controls were identified.

In 2008 the Commonwealth Government gave Gippsland Ports permission to undertake capital dredging. Prior to obtaining the permit Gippsland Ports was required to undertake an environmental assessment of only 3 km around the artificial entrance of the lakes (a total of 28 sq km). This zone is as salty as the sea and no study was undertaken into the impacts for the rest of the lakes which include estuarine and freshwater ecosystems and the Ramsar listed wetlands (a total of 600 sq km). Furthermore the action was not reported to Ramsar under Article 3.2 of the agreement where the Australian Government is required to notify Ramsar of any sites undergoing change. As of six months ago when the last report was lodged, changes to the Gippsland Lakes had not been reported. In fact, the Government’s official documents report that there has been no change since 1992.

The Gippsland Lakes are now faced with increased tidal flow speeds (at the entrance), fringing vegetation dieback, bank erosion, increased salinity, the proliferation of exotic invasive marine species and the demise of native fauna such as sandworms and Black Bream.

Check out the ABC Lateline report (24 April 2012): Authorities have failed to fulfil obligations to protect wetlands in Gippsland in south-east Victoria, despite signing an international agreement to do so. – Salinity threatens world-renown Gippsland Lakes