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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

Salty Gippsland Lakes

Have you noticed that the lakes are as salty as the sea? It’s not your imagination, it’s a fact. The lakes have transformed from an estuarine environment to a salt water environment. This is principally due to the dredging of the artificial entrance at Lakes Entrance from a historical depth of 2.5m to 6m in 2008.

The increased depth of the entrance allows more salt water to enter the lakes system which impacts on a range of plants and animals that depend on the freshwater flows from the feeding rivers. This includes fringing vegetation (as seen in the photo) which is steadily dying and causing bank erosion.

The increase in salinity has also created a perfect habitat for invasive salt water exotic species such as the European shore crab. This crab is a veracious predator that destroys ecosystems and impacts on tourism, aquaculture, recreational and commercial fishing.