Audit needed

Audit needed

In May of 20019, Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, said he would fight for an independent environmental audit of the Gippsland Lakes and its catchment if he was successful at that month’s election.

He was successful and has continued to fight for an audit, however has been knocked back continuously.

At the time, the longtime supporter of Gippsland Lakes and river management issues said he was disappointed both State and Federal government environment ministers had rejected his written requests for an assessment of the Lakes.

Mr Chester was directly involved as a consultant working for Gippsland Coastal Board when the last audit was undertaken by the CSIRO in 1998.

Former river management consultant and environmental activist, Ross Scott, who lives by the Gippsland Lakes, said he is bewildered Mr Chester’s requests have been denied.

Mr Scott said there had been longterm impacts on the Lakes system, however the community will remain uninformed about the Lakes’ function if an audit is not completed.

“Darren has  approached Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, with the same request for a CSIRO independent audit; and received a refusal on the grounds that Victoria has the matter under control,” Mr Scott said.

“Similarly, Professor Max Finlayson, of Charles Sturt University, Australia’s leading wetland expert, approached (state) Water Minister, Lisa Neville, with the same request and was bluntly refused.

“The Lakes were  fresh/brackish  up until March 2008 when saltwater intrusion increased and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) classified the Lakes as marine.

“At this time, Gippsland Ports had implemented a ‘trial’ dredged deepening of the entrance, without any assessment of what impact the deeper entrance and increased inflow of ocean water would have on the Lakes’ freshwater ecology.

“The entrance was dredged deeper than the April Hamer’s depth of 2.5 metres, to a permitted depth of 5.5 metres at low tide.

“The deepened entrance since 2008 has allowed cold, more dense ocean water, to enter with each tide and it has now reached the Latrobe River and Sale as a salt wedge along the bottom.

“Surface water salinity in the Lakes has also greatly increased, impacting on the Lakes’ food chain, spawning bream  and shoreline vegetation/erosion.

“Marine invaders followed the increase in salinity, led by the destructive green European shore crab and the crab eating leopard shark; draught-board shark and stingrays. Also hammerhead and thresher sharks.

“Other invaders such as squid and a range of marine fish also entered the Lakes at this time.

“Fish stocks in the Lakes have crashed and this was a major reason Lakes’ professional fishermen were bought out by the State Government in April.”

Mr Scott said the “right science” would help rehabilitate the Lakes system and help spark a economic resurgence following a devastating start to 2020.

“Commercial businesses are closing, and the one thing that can rapidly lift the economy is tourism on the Gippsland Lakes,” Mr Scott said.

“The Lakes’ ecology can be rapidly rehabilitated with the right science and some worldly onground experience.

“But first we need a credible scientific assessment of the Lakes’ ecology before we enter into targeted (and funded) rehabilitation.

“Only then can Darren submit the case for Federal funding for the Gippsland Lakes rehabilitation.

“East Gippsland Shire and the Chamber of Commerce must support Darren in his mission to save the Gippsland Lakes, and the East Gippsland economy.

“It is also time for the wider community who love their Lakes, to be informed and to support the request for an audit of the Gippsland Lakes ecological function.”

Mr Chester said this week he is continuing to push for an audit of the Lakes and has recently received positive news.

“I’ve often said the Gippsland Lakes are the Great Barrier Reef of the south in terms of their environmental, social, cultural and economic value to our region,” Mr Chester said.

“So it’s important the lakes, rivers and catchment are properly cared for and the environmental impacts are closely measured.

“I have written repeatedly to both the responsible federal and state ministers over several years about the health of the Gippsland Lakes and to request an independent multi-science audit of the Gippsland Lakes.

“Most recently, I’ve been advised Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is formally assessing whether there has been or likely to be a change in the ecological character of the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site. I’m told this work is nearing completion.

“Victorian officials are also working to better understand and manage threats to the character of the lakes system. This investigation is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“The Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, has told me that once these investigations are complete, the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will be in a better position to assess the utility and benefits of a desktop audit, similar to the one undertaken by the CSIRO in 1998.

“The CSIRO is well-respected as an independent organisation and it should be contracted to undertake an environmental audit of the lakes, rivers and world-class wetlands. This is an important issue for Gippsland and I will continue lobbying for an audit to be undertaken.

“An audit would cost less than $2 million and provide a valuable source of information to guide future catchment management decisions and practical environmental projects undertaken by governments and volunteer organisations throughout the region.”

IMAGE: Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, and local environmental activist, Ross Scott, are calling for an environmental audit of the Gippsland Lakes.