In an urgent open letter to the WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson, scientists and experts from all over Australia have warned that WA’s best loved colony of Little Penguins on Penguin Island could be devastated if the proposed canal-marina development at Mangles Bay in Rockingham is allowed to proceed.
A decision on the proposal by the Minister for Planning is understood to be imminent, however the scientists have called for an urgent review of the project by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to allow important new information to be considered before the approval is granted.
Despite having the highest conservation status of all Little Penguin colonies in Australia, the Penguin Island colony population has almost halved since 2007 - most likely due to dwindling fish numbers, coastal development, and boat strikes that contribute to a quarter of Little Penguin deaths.
The letter to Minister Dawson warns that the proposed canal-marina development has the potential to devastate both the Penguin Island and Garden Island colonies. Threats include dredging the Little Penguins’ feeding grounds in Mangles Bay, increasing fatal boat strikes by introducing an additional 500 boats to the area, and reduced fish numbers due to impacts on water quality.
CCWA Director Piers Verstegen said the alarming new information from scientists showing that the canal development could spell disaster for Little Penguins must be taken seriously.
“The Little Penguins, seals, and other marine life around Penguin Island and Point Peron are iconic. They are loved by locals and tourists alike, and must be protected.
“This new information must trigger a re-assessment of the canal proposal by the EPA, before any further planning approvals are given for this unpopular and damaging development.
“Minister Saffioti cannot make a responsible planning decision to approve this project, now that these scientists have warned of important new information that was not considered as part of the the environmental assessment for the project conducted by the Barnett Government.
“Allowing this development to go ahead would cause a major ongoing environmental headache for the State Government, and it would destroy jobs in fishing, tourism, and other industries.
“On the other hand, the popular Coastal Park proposal for Point Peron will create many new sustainable job opportunities while giving the community a wonderful new asset that will be regionally significant.”
WA penguin expert Dr Belinda Cannell, who is based at the University of Western Australia and Murdoch University, said, “The Little Penguin colony on Penguin Island has approximately halved since 2007, and if the proposed Mangles Bay development goes ahead, we could lose both populations of Little Penguins - both on Penguin Island and Garden Island.
“This area is incredibly important for the Little Penguins while they’re incubating eggs and raising chicks. We’re concerned that the canal-marina will impact the seagrass areas and fish stocks, which could increase how far the Little Penguins have to travel to feed their young. If the chicks don’t eat enough before they leave the nest, they’re unlikely to survive.”
Public health expert and Emeritus Prof. Bruce Armstrong said, “Point Peron is a significant tourist attraction, and it will be substantially diminished if the proposed canal-marina development goes ahead. The development would have disastrous environmental consequences, and would be an economic loss due to the loss of tourism.
“In 1964 this land was ceded to the State by the Commonwealth on condition that it was kept as public open space. If the development goes ahead, a large amount of Bush Forever will be removed, and we will lose that green space that we know is so important to people’s mental and physical health.
“In addition to the loss of the Little Penguin colonies, the rare thrombolites in Lake Richmond could also be destroyed. As a freshwater lake, Lake Richmond has one of the few colonies of thrombolites left in the world, and the dredging required for the development could cause the lake to turn saline, which would destroy the thrombolites.”
WA seagrass expert Dr Jennifer Verduin said, “Seagrasses are important to our coasts as they provide oxygen, are home to and form protection for thousands of fish and many more other marine creatures, keep sediment stable and are nursery grounds for many commercially important fisheries.
“The decrease of seagrasses along our coast is worrying. Research shows that seagrasses worldwide are disappearing at a rate of around one soccer field every half hour. In the greater Cockburn Sound area over 77% of seagrasses have disappeared, even with improved water quality over recent times.
“A review of restoration trials around the world shows that construction work can lead to a much lower restoration success than local direct impact. In addition coastal developments are often associated with an increase in boating and general use of such an area, causing further impacts on seagrasses and other marine organisms.”