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.