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.
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