Executive Summary

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The proposal by Coral Coast Marina Development Pty Ltd (CCMD) to build a large marina and resort near Coral Bay on the Ningaloo coral reef in Western Australia triggered a federal environmental assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 (EPBC). This is because the area that would be affected by the development supports many important threatened and migratory species. It is likely also to impact Commonwealth waters and is considered to be of "national environmental significance." The Act is administered by "Environment Australia" which advises the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP. This assessment will be one of the first major tests of the legislation.

The would-be developer, CCMD, was asked to prepare a detailed Draft Public Environment Report (PER) describing the resort's environmental impacts and management strategies. As part of this process, public comment on the PER was invited. Submissions were accepted until 11 January 2002. The developer now has an opportunity to respond to the issues raised in the submissions.

Despite difficulties in accessing some of the relevant documentation, the public response to the call for input was enormous. Submissions representing over 7000 people (including over 1000 from overseas) were received, many of which were individual letters. The main issues raised in these submissions were:
· concerns about the ecological fragility of the area;
· warnings that the wilderness appeal would be lost; and,
· a disinclination to travel to the area if the resort went ahead.

This submission, from the "Save Ningaloo" campaign, drew on the expertise of leading scientists, researchers and local tour operators from Coral Bay and Exmouth. The guidelines issued to the proponent by Environment Australia were carefully reviewed by the campaign as part of the analysis of the PER. While many of the broad requirements are addressed, the all-important detail is often missing. The weaknesses of the PER can be divided into the following categories:

· Failure to adhere to the guidelines and the regulations.
There are numerous deviations from the guidelines. "Feasible alternatives" (Section 3) to the marina development, such as the option of "taking no action" were not described. There was a failure to provide sufficient detail on mitigation strategies, which meant that this fundamental requirement was not assessable. Another major omission was a discussion of the proposal's compliance with environmental sustainable development (ESD) principles (Section 11). This submission includes a discussion of the key components of an ESD assessment using nature-based tourism assets as the resource base.

· Failure to provide sufficient data on the impacts of the resort, including its likely oceanographic and hydrological effects, and the marina's internal dynamics.
There was very little information provided on crucial elements of the marina structure and dynamics, particularly sediment transport amounts, origins and destinations, current speeds and directions, and groundwater. There are also serious flaws in the modelling of currents in Batemans Bay and within the marina. Geomorphologic issues have also not been addressed adequately, which is of particular concern to species such as turtles and birds which rely heavily on the beach and shallows.
· The absence of adequate baseline data and management strategies.
A primary function of the PER was to identify the full range of EPBC listed species and communities that would be impacted by the proposal, including those not listed in the guidelines. However, the PER fails to provide any baseline data on listed species such as the spinner dolphin and the Asiatic common tern, despite the fact that both are frequently seen in the immediate vicinity of the proposed resort site. In many cases, the PER relies on indefensible assumptions (in the absence of data) to justify its claims that the proposal will not impact listed threatened, vulnerable and migratory species.

Furthermore, the PER fails completely to acknowledge the potential of the area for the populations of key listed species, some of which may have been substantially reduced by previous interactions with humans and feral animals. At the very least, this represents a crucial misunderstanding the ecology of the area. For example, loggerhead turtle numbers have previously been affected by hunting and predation, but with good management, their habitat could be rehabilitated and previous numbers restored.

Of great concern is the limited information provided on impact-management strategies, although given the lack of information on the ecology of the area, this is not surprising. Some key threatening activities have not been identified, let alone addressed. There is a pro forma approach to the management strategies in the PER, despite the very different needs of the species, with great reliance on practices such as public education, maintaining records of boat impacts and management plans to be developed in the future.

· Failure to assess the ecological relationships between species and develop impact mitigation strategies.
Fundamental to an assessment of the resort proposal should be a detailed description of the key interactions between species, which is a reflection of the ecological richness of the area. This submission attempts to provide additional information on this crucial element, with a discussion of species such as corals and sea grasses. For example, the proposal could have substantial impacts on these systems, and subsequently on listed species such as whale sharks and dugong as a consequence of "knock-on" effects. However, there are many other interactions that should have been described and for which management strategies should have been provided.

· Many commitments made are highly contingent upon uncertain future actions and therefore are not assessable.
Many of the commitments to undertake further biological survey work amount to both an admission that data on ecological species is lacking and an indictment of the PER, which was required to provide this data, particularly for the assessment of management strategies. Furthermore, some of the work would not be adequately completed by the construction timelines proposed by the developer. We also understand that some of the key commitments with government agencies are not legally enforceable and lack commercial efficacy.

In summary, this submission demonstrates that the PER:
· provides an inadequate description of the ecological values of the area;
· understates the potential impacts of the proposal on matters of national significance; and,
· does not provide strategies that could adequately mitigate impacts on matters of national significance.

Download Complete Submission (380 kb pdf)