Cliff overlooking the Southern Ocean: Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve —Photo: HeyJude70/Wikipedia Commons
December 20th, 2019
To the people of Norway: This is my second attempt to contact you. My first was in February of this year when the original version of this post was sent to one of your largest newspapers. It was never acknowledged and so, I presume, never published. What follows is the same article with a few minor changes, one being that Equinor now replaces Statoil as the company that will be responsible for the oil wells.
I am writing to you to express my alarm that a Norwegian company, Equinor, has recently taken up a drilling licence relinquished by the petroleum giant BP and others. This licence is for the right to undertake seismic testing and the drilling of oil wells in the Great Australian Bight, where southern Australia meets the pristine waters of the great 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 without endangering their young. In open bays and beaches they will stay just behind the breakers. The Bight’s wild coastline is also our country’s most important nursery for the vulnerable Australian sea-lion.
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, fairly well regulated 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 that are affecting some 3 000 000 hectares in my State alone, 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. A major spill in the Bight would pollute water and coast stretching from its source, through Bass Strait and up the east coast as far as Port Macquarie on the New South Wales central coast (see map below).
I am 79 years old and have terminal cancer, so 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?
People of Norway: could not your Eqinor find other ways to make money, rather than despoil one of Australia and the Earth’s great wonders? I will thank you, my country will thank you, and the children of my country including those yet unborn will thank you.
Picture above: Southern Right whale calf just offshore
in Waychinicup National Park, Western Australia
Photo: Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith/Wikipedia Commons