Case study: Jervoise Bay, Western Australia
This case study is of a proposal to construct an industrial-based infrastructure development combined with a harbour development at Jervoise Bay in Western Australia, south of Perth (EIA Network, n.d.). The proposal was assessed by Western Australia's 'independent' Environmental Protection Authority (ΈΡΑ) under Western Australia's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process (Environmental Protection Act 1986). The development was proposed in a low wave energy area which already contained existing industries, and several other coastal uses, including fisheries, tourism, naval infrastructure, port facilities, and important recreational and conservation areas (EIA Network n.d.). Aspects of the proposal included:
• construction of an engineering and fabrication facility, with associated infrastructure
• servicing facilities for offshore oil, gas and other resource industries
• construction of a Marine Industry Technology Park for research and development
• reclamation of 60 hectares of waterfront land for berth construction
• clearance of 80 hectares of land
• construction of wharves and onshore fabrication areas
• construction of an island breakwater 2 km long
• dredging of an approach channel and harbour basin
• realignment of an existing road (ΈΙΑ Network n.d.).
There are already water pollution problems in the harbour (e.g. from existing industries, excess nutrients, sediment contamination, tributyl tin, and limited flushing conditions), but the EPA was concerned about a number of possible coastal impacts arising from the proposal, particularly the impact on water quality (E1A Network n.d.). Issues of particular concern included:
• a further reduction in water quality with increased entry of contaminants
• a loss of 40% of the existing reserve, loss of 40% of the coastal zone and associated loss of public access. The EPA noted that the 'combination of landform and vegetation communities ... is unique in the Perth Metropolitan Area ... The WA EPA has concluded that the landform and conservation value which would be lost through the impact on a portion of the reserve are not able to be replaced and the proposal is not able to meet the ... EPA's objectives in this regard' (Έ1Α Network n.d.)
• effects of sedimentation in the harbour (and re-release of accumulated toxins), erosion, and turbidity (with poor light quality for marine species). This sedimentation was associated with the dredging of the approach channel and harbour basin, and a loss of seagrasses which reduces sediment stabilisation (only 750 ha of 3900 ha of seagrass remained in the area, with a further reduction of 2.1 ha associated with the proposal. It was also noted by the EPA that there were no guarantees with seagrass revegetation)
• use of dredged materials for land reclamation on the waterfront, and the possibilities of the further spread of exotic species which have been introduced through ballast waters
• impacts on two species of endangered turtles and other species (e.g. dolphins) associated with a further loss of seagrasses, habitats, and food sources. Also of concern were potential changes to patterns of migration and breeding abilities of the marine turtles
• enhancement of toxic dinoflagellate algal blooms with possible excess nutrient introduction exacerbated by changes to flushing times in the harbour, and the impact on water quality and hydrodynamics
• reduction in mixing of bottom and surface waters which could result in oxygen depletion
• impacts on 0.2 hectares of reef, which is a habitat for small invertebrates
• impacts associated with the road realignment, as a result of which run-off would be transported towards Lake Coogee via a 'closed' drainage system.
Concerns related to excess run-off into the lake, and the inability of vegetation to absorb and prevent heavy metals from entering the lake (ΈΙΑ Network, n.d.).
There was little mention of direct industrial waste discharges into coastal waters, probably given that the proposed development was primarily an industrial one which also provided supporting infrastructure for other coastal industries.
Although the EPA believed that the proposal could not meet its objectives for 'water quality, marine flora and reserves', the Minister for Environment approved the proposal anyway on the basis of adequate mitigation measures. The EPA noted:
As far as is practicable we consider that the environmental issues have been identified. However, the proposal does involve significant impacts and while mitigating measures proposed are supported, their effectiveness in some areas cannot be guaranteed. We consider that further Commonwealth assessment would not markedly add to the knowledge suite of environmental issues ... [The] EPA considers that [the] likely success of some of the mitigation measures identified by the WA Government, specifically involving the revegetation of seagrass and the remediation of the nutrient rich groundwater plumes entering the Jervoise Bay Harbour, cannot be taken as certain.
Source: EIA Network (n.d.)
This statement again highlights the lack of knowledge about complex coastal impacts associated with human activities such as mining and industrial developments along coastal zones. Nonetheless, like coastal mining, because mining and industries are usually associated with a point source of pollution, when properly managed, this makes it easier, at least for some types of coastal activities to resolve or at least alleviate some of the problems with the use of advancing pollution and clean-up technologies. There are still significant impacts occurring as a result of coastal mining and industries but, according to Young (1996), improvements have been made in reducing contamination levels, particularly with the introduction of pollution control legislation.
Greenpeace nonetheless believes that pollution control (e.g. by licensing) 'is a flawed concept, in that it implies that there is an acceptable level of pollution [at] which no damage will be done (Greenpeace 1995). Similarly, the South Australian Conservation Council believes that licences that control industrial discharges into the coastal zone are determined simply by arbitrary acceptable limits (Davies & Flaherty 1995). Local community groups have also become more active about the industrial coastal pollution issue. For example, the 'Concerned Citizens for Industrial Control' group in Gladstone, Queensland, expressed concerns about industrial pollution and its impacts on fisheries, the limited controls on emissions, and the need for greater stringency in the event of breaches to pollution licences (AGC Woodward Clyde 1993). Clearly, there is still room for improvement in both coastal mining and industrial operations in the coastal zone, but this will need to be accompanied by further research in localised areas to surmount the already limited data on human impacts on the coastal zone which is associated with these and other types of coastal activities.