Cliff overlooking the Southern Ocean: Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve —Photo: HeyJude70/Wikipedia Commons
February 7th, 2019
To the editor, and the people of Norway:
I am writing to you to express my alarm that your national petroleum company, Statoil, has recently taken up a drilling licence relinquished by the petroleum giant BP. This licence is for the right to undertake seismic testing and probably oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, where southern Australia meets the pristine waters of the Southern Ocean.
The Bight’s coast – 1 160 km as the Wandering Albatross flies – is characterised by ancient, cliffs up to 60 metres and more high; behind them lies the vast expanse of the Nullarbor Plain, 200 000 squ/km of virtually uninhabited karst as flat as a table and absolutely treeless. At the western end of the Bight, “king waves” can break over the tops of these cliffs.
The Bight’s waters are home to 36 species of whale and dolphin and are the world’s largest calving ground for the Southern Right Whale, an endangered species numbering about 7 000 individuals and slowly recovering from the depredations of whaling. The females calve as close to land as they can get – in areas with beaches they will stay just behind the breakers – without endangering their young. The Bight’s shores are Australia’s most important sea-lion nursery.
Its eastern end harbours the spawning ground of the iconic Giant Cuttlefish and its weed beds are home to seahorses, and Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons, unique to Australia. At its western end is the world-famous Eyre Bird Observatory. The Bight is also an important fishery.
Seismic exploration will harm many marine creatures, lobsters, scallops and tiny zooplankton among them, not to mention the disturbance created in whale and sea-lion breeding grounds. It will also put at risk the Commonwealth Marine Reserve.
With Australia now assailed by the all-too-real effects of global warming – frequent drought, devastating bushfires and massive fish kills – the last thing it needs is the damage wrought by seismic exploration and the very real possibility of oil spills in waters where they would be very difficult to remediate.
I am 78 years old and it won’t be too long before my time on this most ancient and beautiful continent will come to an end. That is as it should be, for I am part of its Dreaming; its cycle of life, death and renewal. But that today’s children, and their children’s children, will never see my country as I have seen it fills me with great sadness. Can we not save them at least something?
Editor, people of Norway: could not your Statoil find other ways to make money, rather than despoil one of Australia’s great wonders? I will thank you, my country will thank you, and the children of my country will thank you.
Picture above: Southern Right whale calf just offshore
in Waychinicup National Park, Western Australia
Photo: Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith/Wikipedia Commons